Amazon Alexa has been in India for over four years now. The voice assistant, which initially debuted on Amazon Echo speakers, is currently available on various third-party devices, including smart TVs, smartphones, wearables such as smartwatches, and true wireless stereo (TWS) earbuds and headphones. And, of course, there are Amazon’s own Echo devices. Although Alexa started his journey in India only in English, he gradually began to understand Hindi and Hinglish – a mix of Hindi and English – popular all over the country.

On this week’s Gadgets 360 podcast Orbital episode, host Akhil Arora speaks with Dilip RS, the Country Manager for Alexa Skills and Voice Services at Amazon India, to understand Alexa’s journey in the country. Joining the conversation is Gadget’s 360 audio expert Ali Pardiwala, who has reviewed several Alexa-integrated devices.

Amazon formally introduced Alexa to India through the first family of Echo speakers in October 2017. The Echo range was initially by invitation only and available to all customers in February 2018. However, shortly after the first Echo series, the voice assistant expanded in the country through third-party devices, including speakers from Logitech and Harman Kardon and a Moto Mod for Motorola phones.

Before Alexa’s formal debut in India, dozens of early adopters in the country — including our host — tested the experience by bringing in Echo speakers from outside the country. But the official launch helped Amazon get various datasets to brush up on localization. Dilip tells us that Alexa now understands both Hindi and English words, as well as a multilingual mode where you can interact with the voice assistant in both languages ​​at the same time.

“People who talk to Alexa in Hindi have 50 percent more questions,” he notes.

In 2018, Amazon introduced a skill called Cleo that helped Alexa learn Hindi and other Indian languages ​​directly from users. Amazon’s engineering team later built a bilingual Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) system that allowed Alexa to understand Hindi and English words simultaneously. The system also includes slots to include content from multiple Indian languages ​​in Telugu, Tamil, and Marathi, Dilip told the conversation.

“Alexa needs to understand what the customer is planning in which language and even respond to it,” he adds.

Dilip also reveals that Echo devices have expanded their reach over the past four years to nearly 85 percent of the country’s PINs. These are no longer limited to some metros but are available in cities such as Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, and Bundi, Rajasthan.

In addition to mainstream consumers, Amazon sees teachers from government schools in India using Alexa-powered Echo or third-party devices in their classrooms to help their students communicate more freely and improve their diction. Dilip says, “The kids are asking questions they don’t like to ask their teachers. Their attendance rates went up in school.”

We also talk about the privacy side of things and how Alexa works, even in areas where internet connectivity is not comparable to metro cities. You can listen to all this and more by hitting the Spotify player’s play button.

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