Canadians disillusioned by voice tech: Mindshare study

With so many Canadians working and shopping from home, the past year should have been ideal for a surge in voice-based technologies. However, new research from Mindshare shows that is not the case.

In fact, Mindshare concludes that we are in a “trough of disillusionment” when it comes to voice tech, with many Canadians disappointed and unlikely to change their minds any time soon.

“What is surprising to this study, is that the hype of voice—headlines we all read of ‘Voice search will be massive’—has never materialized,” said Sarah Thompson, chief strategy officer for Mindshare Canada. “So many marketers were convinced this was the next big thing and invested in creating bots and services, [but] those benefits were never realized. Even when we were home, we didn’t adopt more of it.”

Based on a survey of 2,304 Canadians in English and French conducted late last year and into early 2021, the study shows few signs of increased adoption, as well as continuing concerns about privacy and little proof that people have found the technology particularly useful.

After a significant spike in daily usage in 2019, to 65% of English Canadians, daily usage decreased slightly in 2020, to about 61%. Usage in French Canada in 2020 was up slightly from 2019, but Mindshare concludes that is likely due to Google adding French-language support to Google Assistant in March 2019.

When non-users of voice tech were asked why they don’t use it, 52% said they don’t see the point, which is nearly unchanged from the year before, when it was 53%.

Meanwhile those who use voice tech seem less impressed this year than they were the year before:

  • 52% agree that when voice technology works properly, it really simplifies my life, down from 70% in 2019.
  • 47% agree that when voice technology works properly, it’s magical, down from 65% in 2019.
  • 34% say having a digital assistant that I can speak to helps me to organize my life better, down from 49% in 2019.
  • 29% say using voice technology feels really natural now and I don’t even think about it, down from 43% in 2019.

Lingering concerns about the technology listening to us remains a significant concern with 45% saying voice tech represents an invasion of privacy—down from 50% the year before, but still a large number—while 37% believe it is monitoring them, down from 44% in 2019.

“The promise [of voice tech] wasn’t realized because we couldn’t get over the hurdle of privacy in Canada,” said Thompson. “We think the devices are listening to us all the time and in exchange we didn’t get a benefit that would offset that cost.”

Nearly half (47%) of respondents worry that companies are listening to what they say to their voice assistant, down only slightly from the 49% who felt that way the year before. Similarly, 38% worry the government may be able to listen to them, again down only slightly from the 40% who had those concerns in 2019.

“For [voice tech] to be more useful, we need to get to a point when privacy is protected and value is created,” said Thompson. “It needs to catch a mainstream wave and be more valuable than asking a random question like ‘What is a celebrity’s net worth’ or ‘Hey, play me the new Taylor Swift.’

“Our mobile devices can do this in two clicks and we aren’t concerned about nefarious people listening in. This may now be a decade away.”

Most popular service

In terms of the most popular voice tech, Apple’s Siri is the most popular by a wide margin in English Canada, with 35% of respondents compared to Google Home at 18% and Google Assistant at 16%. Cortana (Android) at 15%, and Amazon Alexa at 14% round out the top five.

However,  among French Canadian respondents, Google Home is only slightly more popular at 25% compared to Siri and Google Assistant at 24% each.

Voice for what?

Playing music is the most common entertainment usage, cited by 34% in English Canada and 31% in French Canada. That is followed by asking a fun question (31% and 31%); listening to the radio (18% and 21%) and finding recipes (16% and 15%). All of these activities are down from 2019.


Canadians will use voice to research shopping decisions, but are much less likely to use it to make purchases. While 23% of English Canadians and 31% of French Canadians use voice tech to find information on a product they are interested in, or find a local business (17% and 30%), just 6% of English Canadians and 11% of French Canadian respondents purchased a product or service after browsing for it elsewhere. A smaller number—6% in both English and French Canada—have made a purchase without browsing elsewhere, in other words purely using voice.


Photo: Jonas Leupe on Unsplash 

David Brown