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​Smartphone battleground shifts as virtual personal assistants accelerate

​Smartphone battleground shifts as virtual personal assistants accelerate

Apple and Google face off as Siri and Google Now take centre stage.

Advances in various technologies will drive users to interact with smartphones in more intuitive ways, with traditional vendor battlegrounds set to shift in the year ahead.

According to Gartner research, by 2019, 20 per cent of all user interactions with the smartphone will take place via virtual personal assistants (VPAs).

“The role of interactions will intensify through the growing popularity of VPAs among smartphone users and conversations made with smart machines,” Gartner research director, Annette Zimmermann, said.

Despite a lack of local statistics to back up claims, Gartner's annual mobile apps survey conducted in the fourth quarter of 2016 among 3,021 consumers across three countries (U.S., U.K. and China) found that 42 per cent of respondents in the U.S. and 32 per cent in the U.K. used VPAs on their smartphones in the last three months.

Offering an indication to Australia and New Zealand trends, more than 37 per cent of respondents (average across U.S. and U.K.) used a VPA at least one or more times a day.

Apple's Siri and Google Now are currently the most widely used VPAs on smartphones, with 54 per cent of U.K. and U.S. respondents using Siri in the last three months.

In addition, Google Now is used by 41 per cent of U.K. respondents and 48 per cent of U.S. respondents.

“VPAs' usage is bound to accelerate as they add many new features, including integration for business services, further language support and appear across more devices,” Gartner research director, Jessica Ekholm, added.

Gartner expects that, by 2019, VPAs will have changed the way users interact with devices and become universally accepted as part of everyday life.

Today, Ekholm said VPAs are fulfilling simple tasks such as setting the alarm or retrieving information from the web, but in the near future these systems will be able to deliver more complex tasks such as completing a transaction based on past, present and predicted context.

As explained by Ekholm, this trend is also intensified by the acceleration of conversational commerce, but voice is not the only UI for VPA use.

“In fact, Facebook Messenger is allowing users to interact with businesses to make purchases, chat with customer services and order Uber cars within the app,” Ekholm added.

“Moreover, Tencent's WeChat generates over $1.1 billion in revenue by offering its 440 million users an all-in-one approach, letting them pay their bills, hail cabs and order products with a text.”

Globally, China represents the most mature market by far, where the increased dominance of messaging platforms is causing the traditional app market to stall.

Looking ahead, this trend is continuing to grow, not only among consumers but also among businesses or in the prosumer context.

For example, Microsoft's integration of Cortana into Skype will allow users to chat with their VPA - Cortana will then facilitate the interaction with a third-party bot to get things done, such as a hotel or flight booking.

“We expect AI, machine learning and VPAs to be one of the major strategic battlegrounds from 2017 onwards, and make many mobile apps fade and become sub servants of VPAs,” Zimmermann said.

With a predicted installed base of about seven billion personal devices, 1.3 billion wearables and 5.7 billion other consumer Internet of Things (IoT) endpoints by 2020, Zimmermann said the majority of devices will be designed to function with minimal or zero touch.

By 2020, Gartner predicts that zero-touch UIs will be available on two billion devices and IoT endpoints.

“Interactions will move away from touch screens and will increasingly make use of voice, ambient technology, biometrics, movement and gestures,” Zimmermann added.

“In this situation, apps using contextual information will become a crucial factor in user acceptance, as a voice-driven system's usability increases dramatically according to how much it knows about the user's surrounding environment.

“This is where device vendors' assets or partnerships in VPAs, natural language processing (NLP) and deep machine learning experts will matter.”

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