What does the new year hold for smart technology?

Deloitte's annual TMT report delves into the forces shaping smart speakers and AI in the year ahead.

Deloitte has unveiled its 2019 predictions for the technology, media and telecommunications industry in it annual “Technology, Media and Telecommunications (TMT) Predictions.” Created from surveys of consumers globally – including 2,000 in Canada – the lengthy report covers everything from the arrival of 5G networks, to the rise of esports and the accelerated growth of 3D printing, but strategy zeroed in on what the future holds for two specific areas of innovation: smart speakers and AI.

Smart Speakers

Deloitte predicts the “rise of the smart speaker” in Canada, where adoption currently sits at 9% of adults, as manufacturers overcome language barriers and awareness of their capabilities. It notes that adoption in Quebec is half that of the rest of the country, because “language acceptance” remains a challenge in the province, says Deloitte’s Duncan Stewart, director of research for for TMT at Deloitte Canada.

Of six countries surveyed, most people used the technology to play music — except in Canada, where people use smart speakers most often to check the weather.

Worldwide, the firm anticipates that the category will be worth US$7 billion in 2019 with 164 million units sold, compared to the 98 million sold in 2018 for total industry revenue of US$4.3 billion – representing a 63% growth rate. Much of that growth will come from a foray into non-English speaking countries, Deloitte finds. “Smart speakers are improving in speech recognition accuracy, an enhancement that can be applied and amortized across a widening range of services,” according to the report.

But despite the positive outlook, the firm cautions that the market’s growth in 2019 will likely only be half of what it was in 2018, and that a future growth slow down is possible, as early growth has been supported by unsustainable, heavily discounted price promotions.

What’s more, Deloitte says demand may be “somewhat artificially shaped” by the default integration of voice assistants into all wireless devices. For example, many users of smartphones (57%), tablets (71%) and personal computers (81%) have never used their devices’ digital voice assistants. In Canada, only 15% of consumers were aware their smartphones have voice integration and only 4% have used them (a year-over-year usage increase of 2%).

Smart speakers are the seventh-most-used smart devices on a daily basis, behind large tablets, fitness bands and smartwatches (but ahead of small tablets, standard mobile phones an e-readers).

Artificial Intelligence

Looking ahead to 2019, Deloitte predicts that companies will accelerate their usage of cloud-based AI software and services: 70% will obtain AI capabilities through cloud-based enterprise software; 64% will create AI applications using cloud-based development services.

To date, global tech giants (namely, Google and Amazon, as well as Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent in China) ,have benefited the most from AI, because many other companies lack the resources and capabilities to take advantage of it. While Canada “doesn’t have the size and scale to realistically compete head-to-head with the global tech cloud giants, it will likely supply technology to those who ill be providing AI through the cloud.”

Canada will also see a democratization of AI capabilities, as the technology becomes more accessible a result of more services coming into the market, from prepackaged entreprise AI solutions to development tools, the report notes.

For businesses all over the world, AI is becoming “mission critical.” Of the 1,900 global respondents surveyed on the question, 10% said AI is “critically important” right now and 38% said it would be so in two years.

“Signs point to AI becoming one of the leading economic drivers of our time,” says Anders McKenzie, managing partner for TMT at Deloitte Canada. “Canada is a leader in both research and talent, which positions us well to drive innovation and growth for cloud-based AI by equipping providers with the technology to meet demand.”