Alexa in Netherlands and Columbia-FI2

Amazon Now Enables Smart Speaker Makers to Add Support for the Netherlands and Colombia

Image Credit: Amazon

Amazon is expanding Alexa Voice Service (AVS) to include localization for The Netherlands and Colombia. AVS is the Amazon solution that device makers use to integrate Alexa features. This does not appear to be live yet for device makers but a blog post today invites them to fill out a form to express their interest in taking advantage of the new features.

Not Your Mother Tongue

The localization will include news from the country, weather, local radio, and presumably other features. However, it does not include the introduction of Alexa in the native local languages. The new AVS support for The Netherlands is in UK-English and access to the UK Alexa skill store. Similarly, for Colombia, AVS is supporting US-Spanish and access to the U.S. Alexa skill store. This is meaningful in that it provides important localization and lays a foundation for introducing native language support in the future. But, it doesn’t guarantee a local language model for either country.

A New Model for Alexa Introduction?

In the past, Amazon has rolled out new language support through AVS and Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) right around the same time. It then introduced information localization and Alexa-enabled devices typically about 3-5 months later. This sequence provided the opportunity for suppliers of devices (e.g. smart speakers) and skills (i.e. independent Alexa skill developers) to build solutions in advance of Alexa becoming available in a country. It also meant that when Alexa officially went live in a country there were typically multiple devices supporting Alexa in the market on day one as well as hundreds or even thousands of skills from local developers.

For The Netherlands and Colombia, this process appears to be happening in reverse. Amazon Echo can now be purchased in the country and used with a foreign language or variant from another country with some localization of information. That ensures that users have a voice model that is already known to work, provides a semblance of geographic customization for the user, and comes with all of the existing skills already available in another country. Amazon is now opening up AVS support so other devices can offer consumer choice for Alexa access. Whether or not a native language voice model will arrive along with the accompanying third-party Alexa skills remains an open question.

Localization and the Tie to Online Shopping

Voicebot was first to report in December 2017 that Amazon was shipping Echo devices to 89 countries, many of which had neither local language models for Alexa or a country-specific Amazon online shopping website. The Netherlands and Colombia were on this list. They could have the devices shipped in from other countries and select a supported language but there was no localization. Voicebot wrote yesterday that Amazon is already selling Echo Dots in The Netherlands:

“The smart speakers have all of the same features as their counterparts in the United Kingdom, localized to the Netherlands. For instance, if a user asks Alexa, who is in the royal family, the voice assistant will refer to the Dutch royal family. When Echo smart speakers brought into the country are asked the same question, Alexa’s default was to list the British royal family instead. Amazon only opened up a Dutch website earlier this year, but selling Alexa-enabled devices doesn’t mean the language will be included any time soon.”

The Netherlands website lists the Echo and Echo Dot as the international version and makes it clear that “Dutch language not available.” It is not clear how Colombians will acquire their localized devices given there is not an Amazon shopping website dedicated to the country.

Voicebot’s hypothesis has been that Amazon will prioritize Alexa language localization for countries where it has an online shopping website. The presence of Alexa-enabled products provides more items for Amazon to sell in the market and Alexa devices can be used to conduct transactions once they are in customers’ homes.

Starting with a lot of Skills

Another key benefit of this new Amazon approach is to ensure that a new country begins with a lot of third-party skills available to users. Amazon benefitted from this greatly when English-speaking countries came online as they could quickly make a vast number of skills available in US-English immediately accessible. Amazon wants to offer a large number of skill options in every country. As new markets are entered, they have lower populations and as a result fewer developers willing to create custom skills in the local language. This makes it harder to ensure a large quantity of options is available at launch. The current approach could mitigate that issue by providing access to large skill stores today and eventually adding skills in the local language when they are available.

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