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Dave the research grouch: methods, please

Echo Dot

Yesterday, TechCrunch reported on a new projection from Juniper Research saying smart speakers (Echo, Home) would be in 55 percent of US homes by 2022. Having measured adoption of media devices for 20 years, this sounded more than a little like another episode of marketing hype that drives executives into a tizzy (Researcher, we need to be in front of this!) and researchers crazy (Boss, you can’t believe everything you read!).

My first instinct was to try and put this estimate in context compared with data I do trust. Looking at long term trends from GfK’s Home Technology Monitor*, smart speakers reaching 55 percent by 2022 would make it the second-quickest-adopted media device of the past 35 years – behind only DVD players and ahead of VCRs, cell phones, tablets, and broadband. I therefore decided to dig a little deeper.

Following the link to Juniper from the TechCrunch article, and then to various pages at Juniper including its press release, there is no specific information at all about how these estimates were derived. Consumer surveys? Interviews with experts? By asking Siri? Crystal balls?

I can’t say Juniper’s projection is wrong but I can say that such a lack of transparency is a key issue, not only for research companies but for those who publish such findings. While TechCrunch (and most publishers, for that matter) may find research minutiae boring for its readers, it should provide its readers with at least some context in which to evaluate claims like these. As for research companies, you can only help your stature by, again, providing some level of minimum information. If you’re doing high quality research, then it shouldn’t be an issue – and should be a selling point – so why hide it?

My own experience in researching so-called “smart speakers” over the past year (using a large-scale, projectable sample of consumers) is that expected uptake levels are quite low. Until Amazon and Google convince consumers to do more than listen to Spotify or Pandora, it’s my opinion these devices will be challenged to meet the high adoption rates seen for other devices in the past.

*disclosure: I ran The Home Technology Monitor until leaving GfK in October 2017

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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    • I think 30-35% is more reasonable. Voice command will definitely become more important overall, but people may default to their smartphones rather than getting a new device.

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