Google Home Launches in Spain, Austria and Ireland
Google Home and Google Home Mini are now being sold in Spain, Austria and Ireland. In all three countries Google Home is listed for €149 and Google Home Mini for €59. This expands Google Home smart speaker availability to 13 countries with six more announced for launch in 2018. Amazon Echo is currently available in 11 countries with two more announced just yesterday, Italy and Spain. Google Home is available in both of those countries as of today. Apple’s plans for HomePod distribution in these countries is unclear. The table below summarizes device availability that includes voice assistant localization for language and culture.
|Country||Amazon Echo||Google Home||Apple HomePod|
Google Home Enters Spanish Market for Smart Speakers
Earlier this year Google said that it will support 30 languages by the end of 2018. Google Assistant support for Spain and Mexico launched in November. We are starting to see a pattern that localized Google Assistant availability for smartphones frequently predates the Google Home smart speaker launch. Italy was another example of this pattern.
The introduction of Spanish is significant because over half a billion people speak Spanish as either a first or second language. That places Spanish as the fourth most spoken language worldwide. In terms of most common native languages, Spanish ranks second. Any company that want to compete globally in the voice assistant or smart speaker market, must have a Spanish-language offering.
What About Other Spanish Speaking Markets
However, after Spain and Mexico, many Spanish speakers may have to wait for their Google Assistant localization and Google Home availability. As I mentioned in the Alexa announcement for Spain, just having a base model for a language doesn’t mean it ready to launch everywhere. “Language models used by voice assistants are specific not only to the root language itself, but also to localized dialects, accents and culture. That is why the English-speaking [Google Assistant] in the U.K., U.S., Canada, Australia and India are all different. They sound different, have different vocabularies and the natural language understanding (NLU) must account for significant cultural variety.
“Noelle LaCharite is now at Microsoft but previously led the machine learning team at Amazon that was building out the new language models. In Episode 45 of the Voicebot Podcast she commented that even wake words must be localized.
‘The wake word can’t be the same…If you just go in and drop down the list of available languages and just switch it to one that you don’t speak or that you’d like to hear … [you will find] the wake word is different in different languages.’
“Wake word identification is far more complex than most people think, but it is just one difference. You need an entire automated speech recognition (ASR) system that interprets regional language-variants correctly resulting in a correct speech-to-text transcription. You then need to apply natural language understanding (NLU) that accounts for cultural and geographic location variance. LaCharite said this process requires contributions from thousands of people for each new model. There is not one Spanish. There are many flavors of Spanish and that means localization for Central and South American Spanish-speakers may take some time to be available.”
Ireland and Austria are Surprises
Amazon Echo has been shipping in Ireland since January 2018 and Austria since 2017. It is not clear that the voice assistant for either country is fully localized for Alexa or Google Assistant. Both seem like afterthoughts and to my knowledge, Amazon never announced Austria availability despite shipping in the country for more than a year. When Google announced in May the pending availability for Google Home in seven more countries in 2018, neither country was mentioned. So, it is not clear whether some countries are getting more focused attention or if the introduction of smart speakers into markets with established language models just don’t require as much promotion or localization effort. All of the above may be true.