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How Personal Assistants will Transform Our Experience

When smartphones are combined with cloud services, the converged capabilities are truly remarkable. And, cognitive computing and machine learning are enabling a new era of communication. By 2019, 20 percent of all user interactions with a smartphone will take place via virtual personal assistants (VPAs), according to the latest market study by Gartner.

Gartner's annual mobile applications survey found that 42 percent of respondents in the U.S. and 32 percent in the UK used VPAs on their smartphones in the last three months. More than 37 percent of respondents (average across U.S. and UK) used a VPA at least one or more times a day.

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

Personal Assistant Market Development

Apple 'Siri' and Google 'Now' are currently the most widely used VPAs on smartphones. Fifty-four percent of UK and U.S. respondents used Siri in the last three months. Google Now is used by 41 percent of UK respondents and 48 percent of U.S. respondents.

Gartner analysts believe that VPA usage will accelerate as they add many new features -- including integration for business services, further language support and appear across more devices.

Today, 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.

This trend is also intensified by the acceleration of conversational commerce, but voice is not the only user interface (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.

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 message.

China represents the most mature market by far, where the increased dominance of messaging platforms is causing the traditional app market to stall. This trend is continuing to grow, not only among consumers but also among businesses or in the prosumer context.

"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 subservants of VPAs," said Ms. Zimmermann.

Outlook for Virtual Personal Assistants

With a predicted installed base of about 7 billion personal devices, 1.3 billion wearables and 5.7 billion other consumer Internet of Things (IoT) endpoints by 2020, Gartner says the majority of these devices will be designed to function with minimal or zero touch.

By 2020, Gartner predicts that zero-touch UIs will be available on 2 billion devices and IoT endpoints. According to the Gartner assessment, interactions will move away from touchscreens and will increasingly make use of voice, ambient technology, biometrics, movement and gestures.

Smart location-aware mobile apps -- using contextual information -- will be a key factor as a voice-driven system's usability increases according to how much it knows about the user's surrounding environment. VPA technology, natural language processing and deep machine learning experts will enhance the user experience.

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