The recent success of Amazon’s Echo Auto pre-sales has made in-car voice assistants and their usage a major discussion for 2019. While this launch may make it appear that voice in the car is a novel concept, it is actually a continuation of a technology that has been pursued since 2004. As auto manufacturers and software platforms race to incorporate voice assistants in the car, we begin to see the possibilities it still holds and can shift our thinking towards these opportunities.

Key Themes

Utility Over Entertainment.
Current uses of in-car voice assistants suggest that owners are more likely to use an in-car voice assistant to help with a hands-free task over providing entertainment on their drive.

The Battle for User Data.
Auto manufacturers that have integrated voice assistants directly into their onboard systems have seen early success in driver adoption. This allows them to receive user data directly instead of passing it through a third-party such as Amazon or Google.

It’s Still (Very) Early Days for In-Car Voice
The car is a complex environment, but most manufacturers only currently support the capability of a single action triggered by a prompt. By incorporating dashboard screens, contingent strings of actions, and other smart devices, the future of in-car voice technology will involve proactive assistance, rather than just siloed support when called-upon from standby mode.

Current Stats & Adoption

In-car assistants are one of the big 3 voice surfaces in terms of use right behind smartphones, and their leadership in the space is nothing to ignore.

A recent study of 1,040 voice assistant users done by Voicebot.ai has found that two times as many US adults have used an in-car voice assistant than a smart speaker, and the habit of monthly usage is also 60% higher for assistants in the car over smart speakers.

Half of the drivers that have access to a voice assistant while driving have put it to use at least once, and more than two-thirds of those drivers still use it on a monthly basis.

In addition to their large stake in the voice landscape, in-car assistants are still poised to keep growing. About 60% of car buyers said they would be positively influenced on some level by the presence of an installed voice assistant. In addition, nearly 60% of drivers already using in-car voice assistants plan to ramp up their usage in 2019.

(Source: Voicebot.ai January 2019)

Following overall voice adoption trends, in-car voice assistants are used most heavily with a 30-44-year-old audience. When looking at the age range of 18-29 right below that, usage drops by almost 50%. Income brackets also prove to be a large differentiating factor for the use of in-car voice assistants as most users fall in the $150-200K bracket and the least in the <$50K bracket.

In-Car Voice Use Cases

The use of in-car assistants has stayed fairly consistent after their initial adoption. Phone calls continue to be the top use of in-car assistants, and telecommunications giant Verizon is banking on this trend continuing by integrating Google Assistant into its Hum car accessory. Other top uses include navigation, sending a text, playing music, and asking about nearby restaurants.

(Source: Voicebot.ai January 2019)

Major Players

The way users access in-car voice assistants is constantly evolving as assistants that already come installed in vehicles have almost reached parity with smartphones accessed via Bluetooth (~32%).

There is a significant usage drop-off as we look at the options that follow of Apple CarPlay at 20% and Android Auto at less than 10%.

The approach of how auto manufacturers have integrated voice into the driver experience seems to bear a noteworthy difference in adoption rate with Dodge, Infinity, and Volvo leading the pack. BMW, which trails closely, is taking their focus internationally and incorporating Alibaba’s voice assistant, Tmall Genie, into Chinese models. Hyundai and Tesla fall far below the adoption curve and fail to turn almost half of their drivers into users of the manufactured voice assistants they employ.

(Source: Voicebot.ai January 2019)

The rate of adoption these auto manufacturers see with their respective voice systems is much more than a coincidence.

Implementing voice assistants in-car can effectively pass all user behavioral data over to a third-party so auto brands are unable to form a feedback loop.

Top voice-converting manufacturers like BMW have taken control of this potential loss by building their integrations in a way where they still receive user data and are able to iterate on a stronger, more enticing in-car voice experience.

Where We’re Headed

In-car voice technology has made tremendous strides in the past few years and it’s still just getting started. As drivers get comfortable using the technology more often for in-car assistance and the systems continue enhancing their capabilities, there are a few areas we expect to see significant progress in:

The Ecosystem Will Continue to Expand. So far we’ve seen automakers create proprietary voice systems directly integrated into vehicles as well as Amazon and Google manufacturing their own stand-alone hardware to enable voice control. As the in-car voice ecosystem continues to grow rapidly with more hardware options available in-market, consumers will be bombarded with choice as companies fight to differentiate their offerings.

Car-Specific Moments Will Become a Content Battleground. As users spend more time with voice technology in the car, content providers and developers will look to capitalize on that time and create engaging experiences. We’ve seen the start of this with players like SoundHound and Drivetime.fm redefining in-car entertainment by trying to transform monotonous commute time into an interactive voice experience. We expect more to come shortly.

The Connected Car. With the car as a new touchpoint for voice assistants, it’s likely that they will begin to integrate more deeply with users’ other existing smart devices. For example, instead of just telling your car to send your friend an address in a text, your vehicle could automatically pull up GPS navigation to the address you sent, as well as send an ETA to both you and your friend based off your current locations–all from a single voice prompt. The implications of in-car voice span far past the vehicle and have the potential to harmonize all of the smart devices involved to reach the level of true assistance.

Sources:

After over a million pre-orders, Amazon’s Echo Auto has begun to ship, TechCrunch
IBM, Honda deliver in-car speech recognition navigation system, Computerworld
In-Car Voice Assistant Consumer Adoption Report 2019, Voicebot.ai
Younger consumers adopt voice technology faster, but use voice assistants less, reports claim, TechCrunch
Verizon’s Hum brings a Google Assistant speaker to your car, handy voice actions, 9to5Google
Alibaba Tmall Genie Voice Assistant Coming to BMW Cars Sold in China in Late 2019, Voicebot.ai
BMW Integrates Alexa and Cortana, Maintains Control Over the User Experience, Voicebot.ai
Amazon Aims to Add Alexa to Your Car, The Motley Fool
Google Assistant is coming for your car with new hands-free voice control from Anker and JBL, The Verge
Pandora Introduces Voice Mode Built on SoundHound’s Houndify Conversational AI Platform, Voicebot.ai
Niko Vuori CEO of Drivetime.fm Talks Voice Games for the Car – Voicebot Podcast Ep 81, Voicebot.ai