Only about 10% of India’s 1.3 billion people know English. Yet, that is the only language Amazon’s digital assistant Alexa understands in the nation. That changes today.
At a press conference in New Delhi on Wednesday, the e-commerce giant said Alexa now supports Hindi, a language spoken by roughly half a billion people in India. Bringing support for Hindi to Alexa has been more than a year in making, company executives said, noting the unique contextual, cultural, and content-related challenges that Hindi implementation posed.
Users can now ask Alexa their voice commands in Hindi, and the digital assistant would be able to respond in the same language. The feature, which is live from the Alexa app settings, currently only supports one voice type in Hindi. In the months to come, Amazon plans to add multilingual households support, allowing members in the family to interact with Alexa in the language they prefer.
Support for local languages has proven immensely beneficial to customers in the past, Manish Tiwari, head of devices category business for Amazon India, said at the event. Amazon last year introduced support for Hindi language on its apps and website. It has seen Hindi usage grow on the site by six times since then, he said.
“The adoption of Alexa in India has been phenomenal,” said Rohit Prasad, VP and Head Scientist, Alexa AI at Amazon. Alexa has supported some Hinglish words, combination of English and Hindi, but the company wanted to bring full-fledged support. Alexa supports variants of about 15 languages.
“A lot of how people in India engage with their smartphones and internet services is different from those of the people in the United States. For instance, in India, people often use the name of an actor instead of the singer or the band when looking for a particular song,” he added.
Today’s announcement comes months after Amazon added a Hindi voice model to its Alexa Skills Kit, enabling developers to update their skills in India to support the more popular local language. More than 500 skills on the store already support Hindi, Prasad said today. Google smart speakers gained support for the Hindi language late last year.
Amazon says it offers Alexa customers in India over 30,000 skills across various categories including cricket, education, and Bollywood. The company’s voice assistant is available to users through its smart speakers — Echo Dot, Echo Plus and more — and over three-dozen devices from other manufacturers including Sony, iBall, and LG, the company said.
Hindi should also help Amazon’s smart speakers maintain their lead over Google’s in India. Amazon commanded the local smart speakers market with a 59% market share in 2018, according to research firm IDC. (Google launched its smart speakers in India months after Amazon did its. IDC has not updated its findings since March this year.)