Exploring how older adults use a smart speaker-based voice assistant in their first interactions: Qualitative study

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Background: Smart speaker-based voice assistants promise support for the aging population, with the advantages of hands-free and eyes-free interaction modalities to handle requests. However, little is known about how older adults perceive the benefits of this type of device. Objective: This study investigates how older adults experience and respond to a voice assistant when they first interact with it. Because first impressions act as strong predictors of the overall attitude and acceptability of new technologies, it is important to understand the user experiences of first exposure. Methods: We conducted semistructured interviews with 18 people 74 years and older who had never used a smart speaker before, investigating the patterns of use, usability issues, and perspectives that older adults have when using a voice assistant for the first time. Results: The overall first response to a voice assistant was positive, thanks to the simplicity of a speech-based interaction. In particular, a positive and polite response to complete the interaction with a voice assistant was prevalent, such as expressing gratitude or giving feedback about the quality of answers. Two predominant topics of commands made in the first interaction include asking health care-related questions and streaming music. However, most of the follow-up reactions were unfavorable because of the difficulty in constructing a structured sentence for a command; misperceptions about how a voice assistant operates; and concerns about privacy, security, and financial burdens. Overall, a speech-based interaction was perceived to be beneficial owing to its efficiency and convenience, but no other benefits were perceived. Conclusions: On the basis of the findings, we discuss design implications that can positively influence older adults' first experiences with a voice assistant, including helping better understand how a voice assistant works, incorporating mistakes and common interaction patterns into its design, and providing features tailored to the needs of older adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere20427
JournalJMIR mHealth and uHealth
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health Informatics


  • Older adults
  • Quality of life
  • Smart speaker
  • Technology acceptance
  • Voice assistant


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