Alexa turns three in India, and Gadgets 360 talked to Puneesh Kumar, Country Leader for Alexa, Amazon India to learn more about the way that Amazon's smart assistant has grown in India, and what is coming next. “Voice is the future,” says Kumar on the cusp of Alexa's third year in India, explaining that over the last one year, interactions on the smart assistant have grown more than 67 percent, and 85 percent of the PIN codes in India have purchased Echo smart speakers. Alexa's footprint has expanded exponentially and 50 percent of India's Alexa users are said to come from non-metro cities. Kumar says that the company is working on bringing vernacular language support but there's no real roadmap chalked out yet. He also answers why Alexa is not available on many smartphones and touches upon privacy of data and recordings of Alexa users in India.
To celebrate the three year anniversary of Alexa in India, Amazon says it will offer discounts and deals on best-selling Echo devices and smart home bundles. This will begin on February 15 midnight and go on for 24 hours on Amazon.in.
Vernacular language support still some time away
Over these three years in India, Amazon has introduced Hindi language support, and then Hinglish as well, in order to understand slang context. However, the country has multitude of Indian languages, and Alexa currently doesn't support those. The company plans to introduce news in 12 regional languages, but full-fledged conversations may take a little longer to come on board. “Because the brain of Alexa is in the cloud, it enables her to get smarter with every interaction. So when people speak to her in different languages, she is learning all those pieces, thanks to the deep neural networks and machine learning technology and her wealth of knowledge is getting richer and richer. I think her vocabulary of regional languages is getting better.”
“I can't talk much about the language roadmap, so I can't say which language will launch first or when will it launch. Her ability to speak back is limited to English and Hindi for now. Over time, we will consider what the right time is and which regional languages Alexa should be responding in. But, I think we are some time away from it,” Kumar says.
Echo and Fire TV Stick range did well in 2020
In 2020, the Echo and Fire TV Stick range saw phenomenal growth and were among the top 10 products that were brought on Amazon.in during Diwali and all the other sales, Kumar says. Interactions on Alexa increased 67 percent more in 2020 as compared to 2019. Kumar says customers said “I love you” to Alexa 19,000 times a day, up 1,200 percent from 2019. The most requested songs on Alexa were Hanuman Chalisa, Shaitan Ka Saala, and Baby Shark. Small cities like Spiti, Bundi, and Gadchiroli also saw Alexa usage and customers from over 85 percent PIN codes purchased the Echo smart speakers in 2020.
Alexa only available on six smartphones so far
While Alexa is available on over 100+ third party devices including cars and earphones, there are only six smartphones that support the voice assistant. These include the recently launched Redmi Note 9 Pro and the OnePlus Nord. Kumar says that Amazon's goal is to make Alexa available anywhere and everywhere, wherever the customer wants to use it. He feels that smartphones are more personal devices, and voice interaction is more inherent in social settings. He says, “Whether it is in their homes, in the car, on the go, in the office, in school, or any other place, if they want to talk to Alexa, they should be able to do it on a multitude of devices. So smart speakers are the ones that we felt are more social devices, the smartphone ends up being a very personal device. We have even noticed that parents are more comfortable leaving their kids with a speaker over a smartphone.”
Kumar adds, “India is a mobile country, and the industry is growing very fast. Smartphones we have launched in the last 12 months with companies like Xiaomi have Alexa built in. So, customers will have the opportunity to take advantage of that. We also have more than 100 million downloads of the Amazon shopping app, and last year we enabled Alexa on the Android app, so customers who are using the Amazon app can also use it via voice and find convenience with it.” The company says Alexa responded to over 5.8 lakh requests every day on the Amazon shopping app to search for products, best deals, and music.
Upcoming features on Alexa
In the future, Amazon plans to launch a new Macmillan skill to help users learn English, offer access to the world's largest collection of shayari in Urdu via the Rekhta skill, and integrate hundreds of hours of audio entertainment narrated by celebrities and renowned storytellers from Audible Suno. One of the celebrities that Amazon is working with is Amitabh Bachchan.
More privacy control in the hands of the customer
Speaking on privacy, Kumar says the goal is to keep things as transparent as possible and keep the control in the customers' hands. “We take privacy very seriously, because all of us are also customers. We think about all the customers who are buying from us, but also all of us at Amazon who are also avid customers of Alexa. From a privacy standpoint, we've made a lot of improvements in the last 12 months. We have launched the privacy hub so that we can educate customers about privacy, data storage, recordings, etc. We have given a lot of options and a lot of ease, where you can now just tell Alexa ‘Now delete my recordings' and all your recordings will get deleted. We've also given a lot of options and a lot of ease where you can tell Alexa to just auto-set some of these permissions. You can tell Alexa ‘Delete my recordings after 30 days' and Alexa will automatically delete after that time frame. You don't need to go and tell Alexa this again and again.”
“You can see your complete interaction history with Alexa and also delete it with one voice command or one click. We would continue to innovate in this space to make sure that user feel more comfortable with their privacy but more importantly, they feel more in control. That's the aim that we are striving for, customers should be more in control and understand how Alexa is able to give them all these features and capabilities,” he added.
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