With people spending more time at home because of Covid-19, they have more opportunity to get familiar with all the features of their household tech devices. Before the pandemic spread, we conducted a research study on how consumers were engaging with voice-controlled technology and smart speakers more specifically. To accomplish this, we conducted a nationally representative survey of internet-enabled people aged 13 to 49 in the US, UK, Australia, Germany, and Mexico as well as in-depth interviews with smart speaker owners in the US, Mexico, and Germany.

So, what did we learn?

Most people in internet-enabled homes have used a voice assistant in some capacity. We found that in the countries surveyed, 82% of 13- to 49-year-olds have used a voice assistant (like Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant) at least once. Additionally, 64% have at least one voice-controlled device at home and 46% have used a voice assistant in the car.

More than a third own a smart speaker, but adoption varies by market. With ownership at 36%, smart speakers are below streaming/casting devices (46%) but above fitness trackers and smart headphones (both 32%). The US (46%) and UK (43%) have the highest penetration levels of the markets we surveyed, Australia (32%) and Germany (31%) are in the next tier, and Mexico lags slightly behind (27%).

In terms of usage, smart speakers have the most momentum of voice technology. Close to half (47%) of people who own a smart speaker say they are using it more than a year ago. This increase in reported usage is much higher than for those who use voice control for TV (37%) or in the car (36%), or who use smartphone voice assistants (31%).

Smart speakers are relatively new to most who own them, and they’re used regularly. Close to two-thirds of smart speaker owners have had their devices for six months to two years.  They tend not to stop at one – after getting their first smart speaker, many will buy additional ones of the same brand they initially purchased. Roughly half use their smart speakers daily (driven by US consumers), mainly when they’re home alone, multi-tasking, or cooking.

But most feel like they’re not using their smart speaker to its full potential. With “trial and error” being the most common way of learning how to use their smart speaker, 8 in 10 people who own one believe they have only scratched the surface of what the device can do. In fact, most don’t even know the official terms that Amazon and Google use to describe the app-like functionality their smart speakers are capable of (“skills” and “actions,” respectively). They mainly use their smart speaker to listen to music, ask questions, check the weather, and set alarms or timers.

In summary, voice control has reached the masses as part of daily life. While consumers are not currently taking advantage of all that this technology has to offer, most agree that hands-free technology is the future. And because they currently are at home and have more time to explore the potential of these devices, that future may arrive more quickly than expected.