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The Virtual Assistant Investment Trend

|Includes: AAPL, BIDU, Microsoft Corporation (MSFT)

What Is A Virtual Assistant
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3 Stocks to Buy to Invest in the Virtual Assistant Trend By The Street

Out of all the recent technological trends, one of the most intriguing is the rise of the virtual assistant. Not many people could have predicted the popularity of Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) Siri (short for Speech Interpretation and Recognition Interface) when the feature was announced for the 2011 launch of the iPhone 4S. Siri quickly became a hit. People enjoyed questions and receiving answers to any of their queries -- sometimes with a little bit of sass on Siri's part.

While Siri wasn't the first virtual personal assistant, it was the one that firmly established this technology in the mainstream. Now, other companies are getting involved in this sector. Big companies like Amazon and Google, along with plucky start-ups, are all entering the market.

The potential uses for the virtual assistant also go beyond consumer cell phones and into the corporate world. As the technology continues to improve, virtual assistants could soon become even more commonplace.

The growth in this sector has been staggering. A report from Transparency Market Research reported that the virtual personal assistant market was valued at $352 million in 2012. The report predicts that by 2019, the industry will grow to $2.1 billion. Annual growth is expected to be 30%. Most of this growth can be attributed to the U.S., which held almost 40% of the market. Asia Pacific, however, is expected to be the fasting-growing market for the technology.

For investors, there are a few ways to cash in on this technology's popularity. Here are three stocks to consider.

Stock Chart Microsoft

1. Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT)

Microsoft lagged behind Apple when it comes to virtual assistants (unless you count the much-hated Clippy from Microsoft Office). The software company finally released its competitor to Siri in 2014 by bundling the Cortana assistant with Windows 10. Cortana was fairly well received. In addition to Windows 10, Cortana is available for the Microsoft Xbox One gaming console and Windows phones.

The fact that Cortana is available on Microsoft's myriad of platforms shows how Microsoft is moving toward integrating all its products into one standard operating system. Microsoft's platforms have long been too separate from each other, and this new strategy could pay off.

Stock Chart Baidu

2. Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU)

While the U.S. is the biggest market for virtual assistants, Asia is expected to catch up soon. Chinese web services giant Baidu hopes to position itself in that market with its Duer assistant. The program launched in September 2015 and comes bundled with Baidu's search app. Baidu's advantage is that Google and Facebook don't operate in China, so the company's only main competitor is Apple.

Stock Chart Apple

3. Apple

Apple's Siri is what kick-started the whole virtual assistant trend. While Siri is the subject of a patent-related lawsuit, Apple isn't slowing down the proliferation of the personal assistant. The latest rumor is that Siri will come bundled with Apple's desktop and laptop computers. If the rumors are true, this is similar to what Microsoft is doing by bundling its personal assistant with desktop, console and mobile devices.

Apple already has some of the best brand loyalty around, so connecting its devices even more should only help to keep that brand loyalty high.

Corporate Use

While most of these virtual assistants are geared toward consumers looking to have questions answered on the fly, professionals represent a ripe audience. One of the most intriguing companies in this regard is privately held Clara Labs. Their Clara virtual assistant resembles a real-life assistant more so than the competitors'.

Clara is geared toward business people with busy schedules and focuses on smartly scheduling meetings. It's also priced with business people in mind, with monthly rates starting at $49.

Products like Clara show the potential for virtual assistants, and it could be the start of some really big developments.

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