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Older Koreans fall in love with smart speakers

Oct 09,2018
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Older users try out Kakao’s smart speaker, dubbed Kakao Mini, at a senior citizen’s community center. [KAKAO]
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Smart speakers are becoming must-have items for older Koreans as the talkative technology makes digital content more accessible for elderly consumers.

Voice-controlled speakers with artificial intelligence (AI) are an increasingly common sight at senior citizens’ community centers and hospitals, while retired people who stay at home to look after their grandchildren are also learning to use the new technology.

In fact, the popularity of smart speakers spans generations. According to mobile carrier KT, consumers aged 40 or older accounted for 31 percent of the user base for its own GiGA Genie speaker based on data accumulated in May and June.

Until recently, older consumers often struggled to use the latest digital technology because of the steep learning curve involved in adapting to new devices.

Smart speakers, however, made digital services and content more accessible as they can be controlled by simple voice commands.

“AI speakers help solve the digital divide because they let people access information on the internet easily via voice command,” said Park Jong-sun, a leader in the digital divide solution team at the National Information Society Agency.

The digital divide refers to the economic and social inequality from the gap in access to information and communications technology.

As more elderly people learn how to use smart speakers, musicians who tend to be popular with older listeners have jumped back up the smart speaker charts.

According to KT, singers like Lee Seung-chul, Lee Sun-hee, Lee Moon-sae, Kim Kwang-seok and Cho Yong-pil made it into GiGA Genie’s top 20 list.

The top 20 list based on usage data of Genie Music mobile music streaming app - mostly accessed through smartphones - tells a different story. The ballad singer Lee Sun-hee is the only one of those musicians to make it onto that list.

Usage rates suggest that older consumers are spending more time chatting with their AI speakers. Half the queries GiGA Genie fields are processed between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., during regular office hours when retired people are more likely to be at home.

The usage rate of the Genie Music mobile app, however, sees a considerable increase from 7:30 a.m. until 8:50 a.m., which is before work or school begins, and from 6 p.m. until 7:40 p.m. Based on this analysis, mobile carriers are expanding services catered to older customers.

KT has inked a partnership with Samsung’s e-learning service platform Multicampus to offer free video lectures on a range of topics including economics, business and liberal arts through GiGA Genie.

Kakao, which also has its own AI speaker, is expanding religion-related content for older listeners. SK Hynix and SK Telecom said they will jointly offer AI speakers to about 2,000 senior citizens living alone for free.


BY KIM KYUNG-JIN [kim.jeehee@joongang.co.kr]