Google Adds Lens Visual Translation Service to Google Assistant on KaiOS Feature Phones in India
Google Assistant users in India using KaiOS feature phones will now have access to Google Lens, a year after the capability first expanded to India. Now, anyone who owns a feature phone or other device built on the KaiOS operating system will be able to use Google Assistant to identify any text in the image and read it out loud or translate it to another language.
Google first debuted Lens three years ago in the U.S. and brought it to India in 2019. Lens combines machine vision to see any text in an image, then applies the voice AI to read the words out loud in the original language or any number of other tongues. It can even define the words in the food label, graffiti, or, as in the example image, a street sign. The tool is useful not only for those who don’t speak the local language but for anyone who may struggle with literacy.
“Google’s philosophy has always been to build for everyone — to break down language barriers, make knowledge accessible, and enable people to communicate how they want and what they want, effortlessly,” Google Assistant product manager Shriya Raghunathan explained in a blog post. “In India, our rich diversity of languages presents an exciting challenge especially in the context of millions of new users coming online every day. Nine out of ten of these new users are non-English speakers. While many would be fluent at speaking and understanding their native language, there are others who might struggle when it comes to reading and writing it.”
Assisting Feature Phones
To attract a lot of users in India, Google had to expand the availability of Lens to KaiOS devices, which often take the form of very low-cost feature phones. Last year, there were already more than 100 million feature phones using KaiOS and Google Assistant. Lens joins similar services Google has added to KaiOS like voice typing, language selection by voice, and a rising number of Indian languages for translation. In addition to English, Lens can read and translate among Indic languages like Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, and Tamil, with more to be added.
Low-cost feature phones offer a gateway to voice assistants and the internet to a lot of people who may have had little or no ability to access the technology with a more sophisticated device. It’s also one of the few areas in the voice AI market where there is a lot of room to grow. India is at the center of an increasingly heated competition among voice assistant developers. Google has been consistently adding new ways to access its voice assistant. The company set up a free, dedicated phone line for people to call Google Assistant from any phone last year, and has been successfully encouraging voice app developers to work in languages besides English. In fact, there are around ten times as many voice apps in Hindi for Google Assistant than Alexa. Lens and other features that make it easier for digital novices to adapt to the technology will be useful to Google in India as it pursues its billion-user strategy in the country.