As smartphone users begin to tire of the arduous task of using their fingers to open apps more and more will turn to voice controls.

Gartner predicts that, by 2019, 20 per cent of all user interactions with the smartphone will take place via virtual personal assistants (VPAs). As they learn to process more complicated tasks, VPAs are tipped to become one of the major strategic battleground, making apps subservient.

“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.

Gartner’s annual mobile apps survey conducted in the fourth quarter of 2016 of consumers in the US, UK and China found that 42 per cent of respondents in the US and 32 per cent in the UK used VPAs on their smartphones in the last three months. More than 37 per cent of respondents (average across US and UK) 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. Today, VPAs are fulfilling simple tasks such as setting the alarm or retrieving information from the web, but are tipped to begin carrying out more complex tasks, such as completing transactions, in the near future. For example using a VPA to delegate tasks such as booking a hotel or flight, to a third-party bot.

“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 Zimmermann.

The popularity of products powered by Amazon’s personal assistant Alexa are introducing more households to voice-operated interfaces. According to Amazon, Alexa was asked to play millions of Christmas songs during the holidays, the most played songs were Jingle Bells (1999 – Remaster) by Frank Sinatra, All I Want for Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey and Feliz Navidad by José Feliciano.

By 2020, Gartner predicts that ‘zero-touch’ user interfaces will be available on 2 billion devices and IoT endpoints.

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