According to a new Ofcom study, smart speakers help people who live alone feel less alone and give some people with disabilities a stronger sense of independence.
In an in-depth survey of 100 owners and 15 non-owners who tested a smart speaker, some described their device as companion-like and liked being able to talk to it.
Some respondents with disabilities said it had had a significant impact on their lives, giving them greater independence and helping them manage, and even improve, their conditions and abilities.
One interviewee said: “It’s really the difference between maintaining independence around the house…my carers don’t have to get up every five minutes.
“Like tonight, I could just ask him to turn on those lights. Years ago, before I had this setup…I should have had people do things manually.
The latest data from Ofcom shows smart speaker ownership has almost doubled during the pandemic, from 22% of households in 2020 to 39% earlier this year.
Research participants said they primarily use their smart speakers to listen to music, radio, news and weather updates.
The latest industry figures show that 13% of all radio listening hours are now through smart speakers.
People generally feel like they listen to the radio more than before and said their smart speaker allows them to listen to a wider range of stations.
Ofcom figures also indicate that 27% of smart speaker owners now get their information from their devices.
However, most survey participants said they primarily use their smart speakers for instant headlines, but always turn to TV, print or online for more in-depth information. .
There was a mix of views on how much people liked their devices to personalize their content, with some appreciating the feature but others finding it troubling.
One participant said, “It is important to be able to tailor the news provider to your particular preferences and political leanings. It is a personal and democratic choice that I would not have liked to make in my place.
People who don’t own a smart speaker said they either don’t see the point of it or see it as a luxury rather than a necessity.
A few were concerned about eavesdropping and this was exacerbated by their speaker sometimes speaking despite no one using the wake word.
Others questioned the potential for criminals to use smart speakers to steal data, bank details or identities through hacking, saying they had heard examples of other technologies such as monitors for baby and hacked routers.
However, most people said they didn’t think about the day-to-day risks and actually anthropomorphized their smart speakers, calling them him or her.
Some would ask questions in a conversational way, say please and thank you, and sense there was intent in the answers and mistakes of their interlocutors.
Not everyone felt fond of their device, seeing it more as a servant than a friend, while others reported frustration with their speakers’ poor function after misunderstanding their regional accent.
One user said, “It’s a bit of machinery. I wouldn’t thank my hacksaw for going through a piece of wood. I wouldn’t thank a screwdriver for screwing it in.