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  • Rebecca Wald

Smart speakers as new family members

The popularity of smart speakers

Almost everyone has by now heard of Virtual Assistants like Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant that can be installed on smart speaker devices in people’s homes (or, for instance, phones). The most famous smart speaker devices that are currently used are the Google Home devices, the Echo devices from Amazon, and the Homepod from Apple. These devices have become especially popular within families with young children as numbers show.

Because of this growing popularity, more and more scientific studies have tried to understand what role the smart speaker plays in the daily lives of families. For our study, we surveyed 305 Dutch parents that have at least one child between 3 and 8 years and a Google Assistant-powered smart speaker in their home to find out how families differ from each other and what motivates them to use a smart speaker in the family.

What did we find?

The results of this survey led us to two main findings:

First, we found that the families in our study mainly differed regarding four specific characteristics: how well the parents understand the digital world, how frequently the smart speaker is used in the family, how much the parents trust technology in general, and how parents decide to control the media use of their children (e.g., do they set up strict rules, do they use the media together with their children, etc.). Based on how families scored on those characteristics, we identified four different family types. Figure 1 shows these different family types, their characteristics, and how many families (%) belonged to these types. As you can see, for example, the skeptic-mediators, have little trust in technology in general, but still use the smart speaker a lot. To compensate for their skepticism they have stricter rules for their children to use media,

Figure 1. Family types

Second, although we found that the families who use smart speakers vary a lot with regard to their characteristics, they do share one general motivation to use their smart speakers. The main driver for using this technology is the enjoyment it offers.

What does this mean?

Based on our findings we can conclude that families are not the same. For example, some might be in need of more support to build up their digital skills to make sure they use smart technology in a safe way. Others may need information to effectively guide their children’s media habits at home.

In addition, knowing that enjoyment is a key motivation for smart speaker usage in families, developers that work on future versions of smart speakers might want to implement more entertaining elements for families.

If you are interested in reading the full research article, click here. And here to read more about my entire dissertation project, other studies, and future plans.


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