The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that Amazon retail is coming to Australia. The Herald received this short statement from Amazon:
Amazon Web Services launched an Australian region in 2012, we launched a Kindle store on amazon.com.au in 2013 and we now have almost 1000 employees in the country. The next step is to bring a retail offering to Australia, and we are making those plans now.
The obvious question for Voicebot.ai readers is when will Echo arrive in the country. Amazon Alexa already supports American and British English dialects. Can supporting Australian be that big of a leap?
Here’s Why Echo for Australia Might Be Soon
Amazon clearly wants global domination for the Alexa voice service. It was first AI-backed voice assistant to launch in the U.S., UK and Germany. Adding a new language model for Alexa is time intensive. However, if you already have a variant of a language it is in theory faster to localize.
The logical argument against this as a predictor for which market will be next is the lack of official Alexa and Echo support for Canada. However, The Star from Toronto points out that the issue may be that Alexa doesn’t yet support French and that the company wants to launch a bilingual solution for the market. So, Amazon may have to solve three challenges before entering Canada:
- Localization for the Canadian English dialect
- French language support
- Potentially enable easy transitions between two language models on a single device
Australia doesn’t have that problem. It just has a different accent (one that my wife finds quite charming). So, all Amazon should need to do is tweak one of the existing English language models. The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that “the initial focus for Australia will be consumer and home electronics.” Echo falls into that category and would be a nice way to enter the market. Besides, CIRP reports that Amazon Prime members in the U.S. increased their Amazon purchases by 10% after acquiring an Echo. That is an incentive for Amazon to move quickly on localization despite Jeff Bezos’ claims that Echo is not about shopping — which it isn’t, but still.
Here’s Why Echo for Australia Won’t Be Soon
Here is a simple prediction. Amazon Echo will be available in Australia before Amazon retail is launched, but neither will occur soon. The Star reports that Amazon is just now looking for warehouse space. The company may already have 1,000 employees in Australia supporting AWS and other services, but you don’t spin up warehouse fulfillment and logistics operations to serve an entire continent overnight.
In addition, Australia will have to wait in line behind some other languages that Amazon no doubt sees as more strategic to establish early footholds. In particular, Spanish and Japanese languages represent very large markets that Amazon retail already serves. Voicebot reported in March that Amazon Fire TV Stick currently supports Japanese voice commands. That doesn’t mean the voice model for an Alexa-style service is close. Fire TV Sticks represent a very narrow natural language understanding (NLU) domain. It is much easier to develop AI with a limited intent model than the broad domain that Alexa serves today in English and German. However, Japan is the world’s third largest economy. It is an important market and no doubt is a high priority.
This doesn’t mean that Amazon cannot support development of multiple language models simultaneously. They certainly are doing that today. It just seems more likely that new languages will become supported before the company goes back to develop models for English language variants. What do you think? Share your thoughts on Facebook or LinkedIn.