Ask around, and you’ll find a surprising number of people have a smart speaker in their homes.
As of January, 1 in 6 Americans own a voice-activated speaker, but Gartner predicts 75 percent of U.S. households will have one by 2020. With a broad gamut of capabilities—streaming news and music, answering questions, issuing reminders, and controlling connected home products—they can offer a good value proposition, particularly when paired with an attractive price point.
But just because our Echos, Google Homes, and HomePods can do all sorts of things doesn’t mean we’re taking advantage of every single one of their features. Many of us are content to rely on our digital assistants for just one, or a handful, of specific tasks. With that in mind, there seem to be several distinct emerging classes of smart speaker users to which people belong.
The Creeped-Out Owner of an Overpriced Paperweight
For some, particularly those gifted a smart speaker, the first phase of ownership is nonownership. “It didn’t even come out of the box for the first two months,” one Texas-based Echo owner shared. There’s a perception that such devices are always listening to everything you say. While smart speakers may be capable of that, companies such as Amazon assert that they don’t (the “extremely rare occurrence” reported Thursday aside). The speakers use “on-device keyword spotting” to only listen for their wake word, after which they’ll listen and record what you say as a command. Still, adding an always-on listening device in your home is an incredibly personal decision, and if you don’t want to take yours out of the box … well, when the next smart speaker privacy debacle eventually happens, you’ll be the one laughing, not your Alexa.
The Early Adopting Die-Hard
And then you’ve got folks on the opposite end of the spectrum. The people who, on a daily basis, use their voice assistant for everything: for turning on and off the lights, controlling the thermostat, playing music, setting timers, relaying information, shopping, and reading the day’s news headlines. These people would be lost without an Echo or Google Home in their lives (or at least on their phones a whole lot more). Heaven forbid there’s a power outage or their voice-dictated kingdom will crumble.
“I really purchased [an Echo] because we needed something much smaller, with great speakers, to play music on,” Terri Axell of Salem, Oregon, told Slate. “I have to admit that’s what I use it for primarily.”
Data collected by Voicebot.ai shows that listening to streaming music is the most popular thing we task our smart speakers with, narrowly edging out more mundane functions, like asking it the weather. And according to the report “Everybody’s Talkin’—Smart Speakers and Their Impact on Music Consumption,” smart speakers may be driving streaming usage. Thirty-four percent of smart speaker–owning respondents say they listen to music more than four hours a day, compared with 24 percent of the general populace—and many say they listen to more music than they did before their speaker purchase. Before setting it as the default for music, San Francisco–based CNN Tech reporter Heather Kelly used Alexa to play music on Spotify so often that her preschool-age son began adding “on Spotify” to the end of every Alexa request.
The Weather Summoner
Yes, despite the myriad things digital assistants can do, the second-most common thing people rely on them for is embarrassingly simple: the weather forecast. “Alexa at my house is bored. All I ask her is the outside temperature,” one owner recently tweeted. He’s not alone.
“I use it for weather. That’s it,” Redditor Ricoculus Prime said in a thread. “ ‘Alexa Weather’—that’s all I say to it.”
I usually ask Alexa about the weather two or three times a day, certainly more than any other task she does, and I’m well-versed in all the things she’s capable of. I should be ashamed, but I’m not.
The Person Who Really Just Needs a Clock
The kitchen is a popular place for a smart speaker thanks to its counter-friendly size, but regardless of its location, a lot of people use their assistant primarily as a kitchen timer, to set alarms, or simply to get the time without needing to look at a clock or phone screen. Setting a timer or alarm on a smartphone can be a little tedious, and potentially problematic if your hands are covered in flour or chicken grease. If your smart speaker is nothing but a glorified clock, your kitchen (and phone) are likely a more sanitary place.
Most smart speaker owners will fall into only one of those categories of use, but there’s also the question of how they talk to their assistant. And for that, there are really only two camps.
The Alexa Denigrator
Anecdotally, a lot of people love to hate on their smart assistant. “Ours is pretty much just a verbal punch[ing] bag,” one Redditor shared. “We ask it a question, it says ‘I’m not sure I can help you with that’ and then we ask it why it’s so shit.” Others get frustrated, yelling at their smart speaker when it misunderstands a query or plays the wrong genre of music, or barking orders at it. On the more innocuous end of this spectrum, some simply enjoy making her play fart sounds.
The Alexa Apologist
And then there are the folks who are completely appalled by the behavior above. While some just treat their A.I. neutrally—it is a computer, after all—others swing to the opposite extreme. They say please, thank you, and issue apologies to their home assistant when others treat it with disrespect. Amazon clearly embraces this camp, at least for families with kids: Amazon recently introduced Kids editions of some Echo products that reward children for speaking to the bot politely.
Ultimately, how you use your assistant is up to you, but that doesn’t mean that others won’t judge you for your tone or habits. Virtual assistants may not be people, but they’re a household personality—and often a helpful one, regardless of how you use it.