Samsung Bixby and Amazon Alexa Turn Attention to India

Samsung announced earlier today that its Bixby virtual voice assistant will be available on September 30th with Indian accent support for Galaxy S8, S8+ and Note 8. Despite all of the talk about English, Chinese and other language support, there has been little attention focused on the world’s second most populous market. Voice assistants must first tackle the speech recognition challenge in a language and then modify the language model to accommodate accents and colloquial differences. That is why Amazon Alexa still isn’t available in Australia and India despite having English-language support since 2014.

Samsung Remains Committed to Bixby

Samsung has struggled with its English-language Bixby launch. The product has experienced repeated delays and lackluster reviews. However, the company is the largest global mobile phone maker so it has a ready audience for its voice assistant if users will give it a try. Koh Dong-jin, President of mobile for Samsung Electronics, also confirmed that the company is working on a smart speaker with the Harman division.

Samsung’s Bixby efforts are complicated by the presence of Google Assistant on the same devices. Google Assistant has generally received positive reviews from users and is available on virtually all new Android-based smartphones, including those produced by Samsung.

However, the optimization for Indian accents and culture could provide a boost for Bixby. This is important as Google already supports Hindi for search and the company has indicated it will launch Google Assistant and Google Home in Korea this year. Bixby has the Korean voice assistant market to itself at the moment although Line has also said it will launch a solution in 2017. Getting to market ahead of Google at least for Indian English could be important for Samsung as early adopters start to form habits around voice assistants. Google should have an advantage in the country when it has comparable English and Hindi language support although there have been no announcements on either to date.

Amazon Echo Also Planning an Indian Launch

Given the scale of the India market it is not surprising that it is drawing attention from the global tech leaders. There have been persistent rumors about an Amazon Echo launch in India later this year. The Economic Times of India reported in June:

Amazon is preparing to introduce its Alexa Voice Service (AVS) along with its Echo speakers in India towards the end of this year, according to two people aware of the company’s plans…The speakers will initially be launched with an English interface and be updated later to respond to commands in regional Indian languages including Marathi, Tamil and Hindi, these people said, declining to be identified.

That information was said to be gleaned from a senior Amazon executive in the the country and suggested that Echo devices had been distributed to “select company executives, business professionals, and analysts in India for testing.” Someone testing the devices commented:

As of now, there is still a barrier to the extent of Alexa’s capabilities because you cannot use it to purchase groceries from a local store or book yourself an Uber. However, when connected to your home WiFi you can get Alexa to draft and send work emails, text messages, help children with their homework ranging from mathematics to history lessons, set up re minders, check food recipes, play music or a movie on Amazon Prime Video, and even do your shopping from Amazon.

This account sounds very close to the Amazon Alexa experience elsewhere and surprisingly like a press release. With that said, Amazon’s Alexa strategy is built on synergies with its online shopping business. The company appears to be succeeding on that front in India. A recent report by 7Park Data and published in Quartz India showed that Amazon accounted for 30.3% of mobile eCommerce users in India. That is just behind Flipkart’s 30.7% and well ahead of number three Snapdeal.

The mobile eCommerce figure is particularly significant because it accounts for more than 80% of traffic for both Flipkart and Snapdeal. The introduction of Amazon Echo into India could help solidify Amazon’s competitive position and drive new growth. In the U.S. CIRP found that Prime members increased their Amazon spending by 10% after purchasing an Echo.

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