Will the next billion internet users rely on voice?

The next billion internet users will rely on voice

Voice assistants like Amazon's Echo and Google Home Assistant are becoming a massive trend worldwide, so much so that Accenture predicts digital voice-assistant device ownership will reach one third of the online population in China, India, the US, Brazil and Mexico by the end of this year. In particular, India will soon boast 135 million users of voice bots, making it the world’s hotspot for this new interface.

The voice assistant market is expected to enjoy heavy revenue growth, fuelled by increasing demand for innovative products and voice-first tech, in countries such as Japan, China and India.

The two brands helming the global voice assistant scene, Google and Amazon, have managed to strengthen their hold over India as well. Google recently launched its smart speaker products Google Home and Google Home Mini there, soon after Amazon launched Echo last year.

To understand how voice assistants have impacted life of Indians and whether Indians have responded well, The Drum spoke to a Google spokesperson who claims that both Google Home and Google Home Mini in India have received an overwhelming response.

He says: "The team has been hard at work to localize the experience for these smart speakers to the needs of Indian consumers, making them truly ‘desi’. Indian users are now using the Google Assistant on these devices in their daily lives - be it cooking, setting reminders, translations, listening to music and also for controlling smart devices in their home.

"This is just the beginning as the Assistant on Google Home will continue to get better over time as it will evolve more as we will keep adding more features and integrate with even more exciting third-party apps."

With over 460 million internet users, India is the second largest online market, ranked only behind China. By 2021, there will be about 635.8 million internet users in India. Meanwhile, the country also powered ahead of US to become the world's second largest smartphone market.

Whether voice can be used to enable tech products to penetrate emerging markets and consumer without formal education, the spokesperson affirms: “Voice is a powerful medium and it is extremely useful specially for India where most of the population live in rural parts of the country.

Our goal is to make the Google Assistant widely available to users. While Hindi is not yet available as a language on Home, we are working to bring it to users soon,” he said. “However, we have customized Google Assistant in Google Home and Google Home Mini to match the needs of the Indian consumer making it truly ‘desi’. It understands Indian accents, and will respond to you with uniquely Indian contexts.

“We have built in several key Hinglish phrases into the English Google Assistant in India: you can go ahead and ask it ‘How Desi are you?’, or ‘Can you make me a garam chai?’ and you can expect it to respond in a fun, very Indian way. Full multilingual language input is currently only available for English, French and German, but we’re looking to add support for more languages over time.”

However, Botworx.ai chief executive officer and co-founder, Mahi de Silva is very bullish about “conversational interfaces”, through which companies can engage customers in a simple user-experience that responds to specific and personalized needs.

He says: “We think that voice assistants are a great channel for companies to engage consumers, but we take a pragmatic approach, focusing on consumer demand. When we think about consumers that are using voice-only experiences, we are stoic about their market presence. If you combine Amazon, Google, Apple and others, you’ll see single digit million users in the market in India, versus social messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp, which in India represents over 100 million users on each platform and tens of millions of users that are engaging in AI-driven B2C experiences every day.

“There’s also one big differentiator: voice assistants are a pull experience - a consumer has a need and goes to a voice assistant for help. Social messaging platforms, have the important added benefit of push. If you started a conversation but didn’t get your need fulfilled, the company has the ability to follow up with a customer to see if their needs were met – or if there was a way re-engaging a consumer.”

However, voice assistant devices in India are often being used by consumers as toys or gadgets that spark conversations at parties, than for the purposes they can actually serve. Indian consumers often find it odd to speak to a device and get it to obey their commands. This is compounded by the lack of available connected devices and services. Smart and connected homes are so far uncommon rendering many of the features that are offered, redundant.

Rohit Raj, co-founder and creative chief of The Glitch, believes that this fad will definitely see a change as more and more connected services are added. He says: “The convenience factor of just speaking to a device to order your groceries or to call you a cab is something a lot of us are waiting to exploit. We are waiting to upgrade our homes with IoT devices that can take advantage of these devices and for those devices to add connectivity to a lot of local services like Big Basket and Ola.”

The big bang for voice in India will come when devices are effectively localized. And if these assistants gain the ability to understand and communicate with the vernacular, there is a big audience waiting to be tapped.

For more on voice technology, pick up a copy of The Drum's July issue where we speak to Susan Bennett (AKA the voice of Apple’s Siri); find out how AI assistants are being utilised in sectors such as retail, charity, healthcare and education; discover how it is opening up the internet to older generations and the visually impaired; and ask what it means to be 'voice native'.

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