How People Use Voice with Their Smartphones
In this next section, we explore how people use voice, as well as other ways they interact with their smartphones.
Our first question explored how people conduct searches. The phrasing was, “When I need to look up information, I am most likely to… (Please rank your top three choices).” These are the choices we gave them:
- Use voice search
- Type the question into the search window of my phone
- Type the question into search engine apps
- Open a mobile browser such as Safari or Google Chrome, and type the question
- Ask a friend via text or messaging app
We asked them to select their “First Choice,” “Second Choice,” or “Third Choice.” Two choices remained unranked for each participant.
First, let’s look at the breakout of what people said was their “First Choice” for how to use their phone to perform a search:
Mobile browser remains the leader here, but voice search made a big leap upwards in 2019.Next, let’s look at the distribution of what people selected across all three of their choices:
Even though voice search was second most common “First Choice” for users, it only placed fourth overall. That suggests that those who engage with voice search at all often consider it their top choice.
Taking a deeper look at texting and messaging, you can see a clear trend of usage by age, as shown in this graph:
This chart reflects the selection of texting/messaging apps as a first choice. While the total texting usage level is down, you can see that this skews heavily towards those that are younger.
There is actually some real interaction between these two trends.
In the next question we asked people, “Which of these applications have you controlled with voice commands? (Please select all that apply).” Responses were as follows:
In 2018, texting came in at 56% as the number one app that people use voice for. While this dropped into the number two spot in 2019, it still comes in at a strong 44%. The number one application is making phone calls. Also of interest is that men are higher in usage than women in all but two applications:
Most notably, men are more likely to play music via voice commands than women by a 42% to 27% margin. But women are more likely to text by voice than men, by a 46% to 33% margin (women are also more likely to use voice for online searches).
The next question explored when people were most likely to use a voice command. The way we phrased the question was, “In which of these situations would you be more likely to use voice commands on your smartphone instead of using your hands? (Please check all that apply).”
Here are the results we obtained:
“Hands full” (50%) and “While driving” (42%) were the top two responses. Here is a look at the gender breakout:
Men also lead most categories here, but 46% of women use voice while driving, compared to 38% of men. We dove a bit more deeply into this area, and asked participants, “How often do you use voice commands while driving?”
Combining the “Very Frequently” and “Frequently” categories of responses, we get 31%, whereas combining the “Rarely” and “Never” categories returns 41%. This skews towards men, who chose “Very Frequently” or “Frequently” 40% of the time, whereas women did so only 24% of the time. Women chose “Never” or “Rarely” 47% of the time and men only chose one of those 35% of the time.
Why are people reluctant to use voice commands while driving? We asked them: “Do you think using voice commands while driving is distracting?” The responses were as follows:
Men are more concerned about this than women by a 56% to 45% margin. Of course, if the law in your state prohibits you from dialing numbers by hand, that may encourage you to use voice for dialing. To find out about that, we asked: “Is there a hands-free driving law in your state?”
This is what the participants said:
It’s a bit concerning to see a full 32% indicating that they don’t know. Most states with these laws plaster their highways with signs to make people aware of the law. In fact, there are 16 states that have hands-free restrictions for drivers and their phones.
For our next question, we asked our participants: “How often do you use voice commands with devices other than your phone (e.g. laptop, smart TV, watch, a virtual assistant)?”
Here is what they said:
Thirty percent of people use voice on other devices “Very Frequently” or “Frequently” (up from 22% last year), and 50% do so “Rarely” or “Never” (down from 58% last year). Interestingly enough, among those who make $100K or more per year, 46% do so “Very Frequently” or “Frequently,” and for the $50K-$99K income range, this still comes in at a strong 39%. This may be due to the growth of the smart speaker market segment. The male bias here is very strong as well, with men outpacing women by a 39% to 22% margin.
We then asked people: “What is your preferred method of sending a text message?” and got the following responses:
Typing by hand dominates this question (73% of people picked “Type By Hand,” down from 77% in 2018 and 80% in 2017) but using voice to enter in your text is used by 20% of people. Sending your text as a recorded voice message is preferred by 7% of users (up by 4% from last year).
We also wanted to explore basic smartphone usage behaviors. One of the questions we used to do that was: “(Please select all that apply)?”. Results were as follows:
Voice actually came in fourth for this question, with 22% of respondents selecting it. This was a surprise, as using voice commands to make calls is a great way to keep your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road while driving.
The next question along these lines explored: “How do you usually talk on the phone (Please select all that apply)?” Here is what the survey said:
Phone to Ear wins this question at 68%. Forty-three percent of people indicated that they use their phones in speakerphone mode, and wired headsets still score well at 28%. Men are far more likely to use a wired headset than women by a 34% to 21% margin. People over 45 are the least likely to use a headset of any kind (21%) compared to their younger counterparts (54%).
Our next question was: “When using a search engine or a personal assistant (Google Assistant, Siri or Cortana) on your smartphone, what do you like most about using voice commands (Please rank your top three choices)?”
The results were as follows:
“It’s Fast” was the number one response, with 67% of people selecting it as one of their top three choices. “Accuracy,” “No Typing” and “Answer is Read Back” all scored very close to each other (50%, 49%, and 47%, respectively). Interestingly enough, people with incomes over $100K cited “It’s Fast” as their number-one reason 49% of the time (up from 43% last year).
Next up, we asked people about the quality of speech recognition: “How well do your built-in personal assistants on your phone, such as Google Assistant, Cortana, and Siri, understand you?”
Here is what we got:
“Very Well” and “Well” came in right at 53%, and when you add “Not Bad,” the total goes up to 74%. The $100K+ income category was at 61% here, and the $50K-$99K category came in at 59%. Men also felt better than women about their devices understanding them by 59% to 48%.
The follow-up question was, “How comfortable are you accessing Siri or Google Assistant by holding down your home button?”
Respondents replied as follows:
This suggests something interesting about the levels at which people are using personal assistants such as Google Assistant and Siri. Forty-three percent of respondents indicated that they are comfortable or very comfortable accessing the phone this way, and only 13% indicated that they are uncomfortable or very uncomfortable.
For users who indicated discomfort, we asked them to clarify why. Responses were as follows:
The number one answer? It’s annoying, with a score of 31%. Women are more annoyed by this feature than men by a 37% to 26% margin, whereas men are more concerned about privacy, 35% to 23%.
For our next question, we asked, “Would you use voice to unlock your phone if it were an option?”
The responses were as follows:
Nearly half (48%) say yes, with one-third saying no. Higher-income people are much more amenable to this with 59% of people that make $50,000 or more saying that they would use this functionality.
One of the holdups is the reluctance to bother others when we do it. To explore just how real that fear is, we asked, “Do you agree with this statement? I feel annoyed when I hear someone use voice commands on their phone in a public setting.”
Here is what people said:
Among respondents, 46% either agree or strongly agree, with only 25% disagreeing or strongly disagreeing. These scores are very similar to last year (at 45% and 25%), so there is still some stigma that remains. This is in spite of the data we presented at the beginning of this report suggesting that people are becoming more comfortable with using voice with their devices in front of others.
This question skews toward higher incomes in a big way, as 61% of those who make $100K+ get annoyed, and 57% of those who make $50-$99K do. You can see the clear trend in this chart:
However, it stands to reason that the reason why it’s attractive to use voice commands is that it is convenient. To find out what people thought of that, we asked, “Do you agree with this statement? Voice commands make using my smartphone easier.”
Here are the results:
Higher earners appear to see the value more, with 63% of those who make $100K+ strongly agreeing or agreeing with the statement, along with 61% of those in the $50K to $99K income category.
We also wanted to explore what features people want most from their personal assistants in the future. That led us to ask, “When using a search engine or a personal assistant on your smartphone, what features related to voice commands would you like in the future? (Please select all that apply).”
This is what the respondents said:
“More Direct Answers” was the winning response in 2017 and 2018, but dropped to second place behind “Customized Voice” in 2019.For our second-to-last question, we asked, “Are you comfortable activating/accessing Siri or Google using your voice commands, such as Hey Siri, OK Google, or Alexa?”
Most people (80%) are pretty comfortable with these commands.
Our final question was grounded in a mistaken impression on our part. We asked people, “Are you aware that all your conversations are recorded when you have ‘Hey Siri,’ ‘OK Google’ or ‘Alexa’ enabled?”
Before presenting the answer, I should clarify that both Amazon and Google have publicly indicated that the recordings of what you say are only kept locally on the device, and they are discarded after six months. This information is not sent back to their data centers. The only information they receive are the actual commands that you provide to the personal assistant.
With that clarification, here were the responses:
For reference, here are articles that provide some background on the information retention policies of Amazon and Google:
Finally, many may assume that smartphones are the most common internet-connected devices today, but that is far from the truth: