By the year 2021, there will be more AI-powered digital assistants installed on devices than there are people in the world, according to new research from Ovum. The install base will be higher than 7.5 billion by that time, which is greater that the planet’s population as recorded by the US Census Bureau on May 1, 2017.

Google Assistant will be the most installed assistant, accounting for 23.3% of the market, the report said. The next most popular assistant will be Samsung Bixby, with 14.5% market share. Apple’s Siri will take 13.1%, Amazon’s Alexa will have 3.9%, and Microsoft’s Cortana will round it out with 2.3%.

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“Ultimately, a digital assistant is just another user interface. It will only be as good as the ecosystem of devices and services that it is compatible with. Partnerships between tech giants and local service providers will therefore be key differentiators,” said Ronan de Renesse, practice leader for Ovum’s Consumer Technology team and author of the report, in the release.

The majority of devices using these assistants were smartphones and tablets in 2016, which should come as no surprise, given that many of these assistants launched on a smartphone. According to the report, there were some 3.5 billion active devices in 2016, with Google Now and Apple’s Siri acting as the primary assistants for these devices.

Despite the popularity of AI assistants in mobile, Ovum said in the press release that it expects a broadening of AI capabilities in other devices and services. Specifically, the release pointed out wearable devices, smart home gadgets, and smart TVs. While the assistants reside on the network, not the device, it is crucial that the vendors get the technology in the hands of more users in order to get the data needed to increase its effectiveness.

Expanding globally will also be a key challenge for AI digital assistant vendors, the report found. More than 95% of the install base for Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant was in North America in the year 2016. Compare that to Apple’s Siri, of which only 24% of its install base was in the same region. The Asia and Oceania region will see quite a bit of growth, accounting for 47.6% of voice AI-capable devices in use by 2021, the report found.

Currently, the capabilities of these assistants are fairly limited, but de Renesse said in the release that there is a big opportunity for vendors to fill in the gaps.

“There is a disconnect between the ‘know-it-all, do-it-all’ approach that current digital assistants are aiming toward and the highly personalized virtual assistance experience that consumers have dreams/nightmares about,” de Renesse said. “Whoever can bring personal consumer data in a secure, non-creepy way to digital assistance will be able to bridge that gap and capture most of the opportunity.”

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. By 2021, the number of installed AI digital assistants will be larger than the number of people on Earth, according to Ovum research.
  2. Google Assistant will be the most-installed product, followed by Samsung Bixby and then Apple’s Siri.
  3. AI assistant capabilities are limited, but the vendor that can improve those capabilities and bridge the gap between reality and consumer expectations will win big, experts said.