Amazon Alexa has been in India for more than four years. The voice assistant, which initially debuted on Amazon Echo speakers, is currently available in a number of third-party devices, including smart TVs, smartphones and wearables such as smart watches, as well as truly wireless stereo (TWS) headphones and earphones. And of course, it has Amazon’s own Echo devices. Although Alexa began her trip to India only in English, she gradually began to understand Hindi and Hinglish – a mixture of Hindi and English – which are popular throughout the country.
In this week’s episode of the Gadgets 360 Orbital podcast, host Achilles Arora spoke with Dilip RS, state manager for Alexa Skills and voice services at Amazon India, to find out about Alexa’s trip to the country. The conversation was joined by audio expert on Gadgets 360 Ali Pardivala, who reviewed a number of devices integrated with Alexa.
Amazon officially introduced Alexa in India through the first Echo family of speakers in October 2017. Initially, the Echo range was by invitation only and was made available to all customers in February 2018. However, shortly after the initial Echo series, the voice assistant expanded in the country through third-party devices, including Logitech and Harman Kardon and Moto Mod speakers for Motorola phones.
Prior to Alexa’s official debut in India, dozens of early adopters in the country – including our host – tested the experience by receiving Echo speakers outside the country. But the official launch helped Amazon get a wide range of localization polishing data. Dilip tells us that Alexa now understands both Hindi and English words, as well as a multilingual mode where you can interact with the voice assistant in both languages at the same time.
“People who talk to Alexa in Hindi actually have 50 percent more questions,” he said.
In 2018, Amazon introduced a skill called Cleo, which helped Alexa learn Hindi and other Indian languages directly from users. Amazon’s engineering team later built a bilingual automatic speech recognition (ASR) system that allowed Alexa to understand Hindi and English at the same time. The system also includes slots to include content from many Indian languages in Telugu, Tamil and Marathi, Dilip said in an interview.
“Alexa really needs to know what the customer intends in what language and even respond to that,” he added.
Dilip also revealed that in the last four years, Echo devices have expanded their reach to almost 85 percent of the country’s PIN codes. They are no longer limited to some metro stations, but are available in cities such as Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh and Bundi, Rajasthan.
In addition to its regular users, Amazon sees government school teachers in India using Alexa-powered Echo or third-party devices in their classrooms to make their students interact more freely and improve their diction. Dilip says: “Children ask questions that they are not comfortable asking their teachers. Attendance has increased at school.”
We are also talking about privacy and how Alexa works even in areas where internet connectivity is not on par with metro cities. You can listen to all this and more by pressing the play button on the Spotify player built in above.
If you are new to our site, you can find the Orbital Gadgets 360 podcast on your favorite platform – be it Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Ghana, JioSaavn, Spotifyor wherever you listen to your podcasts.
Be sure to follow the Gadgets 360 podcast wherever you listen. Please also rate us and leave feedback.
New episodes of Orbital come out every Friday. Remember to tune in every week.