Move over Apple’s Siri, OK Google, Samsung’s Bixby and numerous other virtual assistants on Android-based devices—it’s time to bring home Amazon’s new smart-home gear. Yes, we are talking about three voice-controlled speakers: Echo, Echo Plus, and Echo Dot, that are powered by Alexa—a cloud-based voice service that actually talks to you. She answers questions, plays music, turns the lights on and off, gives sports scores, checks the weather, and more. It may sound like the artificial intelligence-based personal assistant Jarvis in Iron Man, however, Alexa is much more. Let me demystify the Amazon offerings here. Echo, Echo Plus, and Echo Dot are voice-controlled speakers designed entirely around your voice—they are always ready, hands-free, and fast. Alexa is the brain behind these speakers. Built in the cloud, and with tens of thousands of third-party developers around the world creating skills, the Alexa service is always getting smarter. Third-party developers in India are already building new, localised skills for Alexa, and over 10,000 skills will be available for customers in India soon.
Ask Alexa all kinds of questions, including those about famous people, dates, places, calculations, conversions, spelling, and much more. For example, “Alexa, what time is sunrise in Mumbai?”, “Alexa, how many days until Diwali?”, “Alexa, what’s the length of the Kaveri river?”, or “Alexa, how do you spell Tiruchirapalli?” Or, ask Alexa for a joke by saying “Alexa, tell me a joke”.
“Tens of millions of customers are already using Alexa, and we’re excited to bring her to India with an all-new experience designed from the ground up for our customers in India,” said Dave Limp, senior vice-president, Amazon Devices and Services. “The combination of Alexa and Echo provides customers with hands-free access to music, weather, news, information, and more—just ask.”
India is the fourth country where Amazon has launched Alexa-powered devices, after the US, UK and Germany. According to company officials, a great deal of effort has gone into making the Alexa voice service appealing to Indian customers. “It took us almost a year to localise Alexa for India,” says Puneesh Kumar, country manager – India, Alexa Experiences and Devices (see interview).
Globally the adoption of voice-powered smart speakers is taking off. A report by Juniper Research says that smart devices like the Amazon Echo, Google Home and Sonos One will be installed in a majority—that is, 55% – of US households by the year 2022. By that time, over 70 million households will have at least one of these smart speakers in their home, and the total number of installed devices will top 175 million. Another report from eMarketer says that 35.6 million US consumers would use a voice-activated device at least once per month in 2017, representing 128.9% growth over last year. Voice controls are also expanding across other platforms, including PCs, tablets, connected TVs, cars and wearables.
aisal Kawoosa, principal analyst—telecom & ESDM at CMR, remarks: “There is immense potential for voice-based systems like Alexa for the reason that India is a voice-obsessed market as we have seen for many years. Only now has the orientation started towards data. We are a talkative nation. Second reason is that with data services all around, voice-based systems would help in adoption of internet and internet-enabled services as it bypasses the necessity of having a certain level of literacy.” The CMR analyst feels that more value-add will be when systems will start supporting efficiently the Indian languages based voice systems. “Without doubt, we will see the uptake first in metros with tech enthusiasts as well as the SEC A category of consumers who have appetite for adding such ‘luxuries’ to their gadgetry,” he said.