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Voice – The next frontier

A year ago, India saw the launch of the smart speaker category in the form of an invite-based offering from Amazon by bringing its Echo range of smart speakers, enabled with its voice assistant Alexa. Since then, more than a million smart speakers have been sold in the country. Users are not only interacting with these speakers in their bedroom, kitchen, and dining room but interestingly, a significant percentage of users prefer to keep these speakers in their bathroom!!! Alexa is still learning how to respond to all the marriage proposals it receives every two minutes in India, whereas, Google wants you to interact with its range of speakers in your native language to make search and navigation more convenient for you.

Decades ago, at the beginning of India’s digital journey, the internet was a privilege for only the elite few who could afford computers and laptops. However, the smartphone revolution in the last decade or so has fundamentally changed the way we access the unlimited digital content available from music, videos, and books, among others. This hardware with touch and swipe has fundamentally transformed our interaction with the seemingly complicated device.

Now, in the next phase of technology adoption, conversational computing with the use of voice assistants is expected to drastically transform the user experience. It will not only empower people who are not very comfortable with English as a language but will also lead to the digital inclusion of those who cannot read and/or write.

Amazon and Google are trying hard to make voice assistants more Indianized and getting users comfortable in using voice as their next mode of interaction with devices. While it is the most natural way of interaction, the sheer diversity of India with its several states with different languages makes it a gargantuan task to get the voice computing right. In a country like India with over 30 languages, and several hundred dialects, which vary every few hundred kilometers, and resulting varying context of each word in the same language, makes it significantly difficult here as compared to some of the developed countries where assistants got quick traction in the past few years.

Being localized makes more sense since non-metros or smaller cities are catching up with the metro cities in terms of internet usage and exposure to new kinds of technology. As per Google’s The Year in Search 2018 Report, two out of three searches belong to the non-metro cities, and local-language searches are slowly increasing throughout the country.

Voice assistants are being pushed in other device categories as well. Mobile vendors have started providing either a dedicated physical button or pre-burnt assistant on their devices to provide an easy search option; earwear makers are using a dedicated button or hot keyword option to control music via assistant, and appliances vendors are using the assistant to automate operations of their devices. One of the most important things about voice is that it is device-agnostic and can easily be used to control many more devices. Integration of all these devices will make a strong use case for voice to prevail as a strong platform in the coming years.

Assistants have now started their second phase with the launch of smart speakers that are more accurate, versatile, and faster than those from their previous generations. However, these are yet to become the preferred UI amongst the current and ever-growing smartphone-consumer base.

Moreover, with the immense popularity of voice as a medium, brands would need to define their strategies to be a part of this ongoing revolution and devise approaches to utilize this medium in their favor. In the interim, the game is on to be ready for the next platform.

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