Virtual digital assistants will overtake world population by 2021


The global native digital assistant installed base is set to exceed 7.5 billion active devices by 2021, claims research and consulting firm Ovum in its Digital Assistant and Voice AI-Capable Device Forecast for 2016 to 2021.

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And the current breakdown of assistants is also expected to change a lot. At the end of 2016, over 95 percent of the installed base for Amazon's Alexa and Google Assistant was in North America, with a further 24 percent going to Apple's Siri.

By 2021, 47.6 percent of voice AI-capable devices in use is expected to be in Asia and Oceania, and according to Ovum, digital assistants of Chinese origin are set to be as powerful as Siri or Bixby. Chinese virtual assistants already account for around 43 million devices in 2016, with companies such as Baidu and iFlytek currently pushing the envelope.

The 2021 share is predicted to look as follows:

  • Google Assistant: 23.3 percent
  • Samsung's Bixby: 14.5 percent
  • Apple's Siri: 13.1 percent
  • Amazon's Alexa: 3.9 percent
  • Microsoft's Cortana: 2.3 percent
Virtual digital assistants will overtake world population by 2021

While we currently think of smartphones and speaker devices being the hub for voice assistants, Ovum sees TV devices - smart TVs, set-top boxes, and media streamers - as offering a larger opportunity, estimated to account for 57 percent of the 2021 install base.

"Ultimately, a digital assistant is just another user interface. It will only be as good as the ecosystem of devices and services that it is compatible with. Partnerships between tech giants and local service providers will therefore be key differentiators" said Ronan de Renesse, Practice Leader for Ovum's Consumer Technology team and author of the report.

"There is a disconnect between the 'know-it-all, do-it-all' approach that current digital assistants are aiming toward and the highly personalized virtual assistance experience that consumers have dreams/nightmares about," de Renesse goes on to say. "Whoever can bring personal consumer data in a secure, non-creepy way to digital assistance will be able to bridge that gap and capture most of the opportunity."

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