The Coronavirus Quarantine in South Korea is Leading to Many More Voice Assistant Conversations
South Korean telecom giant KT is reporting a major spike in conversations with its GiGA Genie smart speaker. The novel coronavirus pandemic and subsequent self-isolation have resulted in a 38% jump in the number of conversations people are having with the voice assistant accessible through the smart speaker this quarter compared to the fourth quarter of 2019.
KT cited the time spent home as a precaution against COVID-19 as a reason for why people are more interested in the digital products and non-face-to-face services available through a smart speaker. Interest in the news has unsurprisingly grown, with people asking KT smart speakers for real-time news 135% more often than last quarter. The most popular request, however, is activities for kids, according to the company. That’s probably a natural consequence of all of the schools in South Korea being closed because of the coronavirus. Requests for songs and math help for children have risen by 193% over the last quarter.
Voice assistant developers globally have been responding to the pandemic with new features to answer questions about the disease, questionnaires to check people’s potential risk, and even songs to make sure people wash their hands for the right length of time. The voice assistants have had to adjust some of their standards to serve public health. Google Assistant and Alexa have removed every non-governmental voice app related to the coronavirus from their catalogs to combat misinformation and rumors about the virus, but Siri and Alexa both have the CDC self-assessment as an option and Google Assistant offers CDC-approved pandemic tips.
KT has been working to build out its AI offerings for a while, although arguably with a more optimistic outlook than is warranted. The company claims that its voice assistant has over two million subscribers, more than any other in South Korea. The voice assistant is integrated into 60,000 apartments and 1,000 hotel rooms in the country. KT’s AI is also built into some hotel robots and voice requests to the AI will be fulfilled by the robot. At a time when people are trying to avoid getting too close to each other, that’s a technology that will attract interest.
Of course, even if KT accounts for the plurality of smart speakers, South Korea is very competitive in AI. The GiGA Genie smart speaker has to go up against Naver and SK Telecom’s smart speakers, all of which are sold only in South Korea. KT does win out over Samsung, which has yet to debut a Bixby voice assistant-powered smart speaker in its home country, but there’s additional competition from Google, which began selling Google Home and Google Home Mini smart speakers in South Korea in 2018, not long after adding Korean to Google Assistant’s languages. The pandemic is leading to shifts in many industries, however, so the rise in conversations with GiGA Genie smart speakers may be part of a positive trend for KT.