Amazon Echo adds voice calling & messaging in India, drops invite-only tag

Amazon India is dropping the invite-only tag on its Echo range of smart speakers and making them available for all consumers in the country.
The e-commerce giant is also tapping into offline retail stores to boost the sales of Echo devices.

Parag Gupta – Head of Product Management and Marketing, Amazon Devices told ETtech that customers will now be able to purchase Echo devices from more than 350 retail outlets such as Croma, Reliance, Vijay Sales and Crossword among others across 20 cities in India. It will also be available at the Amazon devices kiosk in Bengaluru and Mumbai.

“Tens of thousands of customers have adopted Echo devices in India. We get millions of utterances a week, which is among the highest in all the countries where Echo devices is currently available” Gupta said.

In addition, Amazon is also now allowing customers purchase multiple devices, which was previously restricted to one device per customer during the invitation phase.

Voice Calling & Messaging

Amazon is also introducing voice calling and messaging capabilities to its voice assistant Alexa, enabling users with an Echo device or Alexa mobile app to call or message their contacts who also have either an Echo device or the Alexa mobile app.

Puneesh Kumar, Country Manager – India, Alexa Experience & Devices told ETtech that the Alexa experience for India has received a major upgrade during this invite-only phase, with improved speech recognition, expanded local knowledge, new localised skills and better music selection.

One of the key focus areas has been the getting the right pronunciation of Indian words or names in a local accent. For instance, Alexa used to pronounce Lata Mangeshkar in a non-Indian accent when the first devices got shipped in India during the first week of November. However, three months down the lane, the device is now able to pronounce complex Indian names accurately in local accents.

“We are trying to make sure Alexa can even pronounce the words correctly because it needs to sound natural. We don’t want anything to sound robotic or mechanised.” Kumar said.

Another key learning for Amazon during the invite-only phase was the fact that Indian users identify music with actors much more than music directors and singers. “Users saying to play songs by Salman Khan movies is a very Indian experience. If you went to the United States, nobody says play songs from the movies of Tom Hanks” Gupta said.

Skills on

With the public availability of Echo devices, Amazon is also aiming to improve the discovery of Alexa Skills, the voice apps developed by third-party developers to extend the functionality of Echo devices, among its customers.

“Earlier, the discovery of skills was primarily through the Skills store on the Alexa app. Now it will also be available on website and mobile app and each skill page will start having reviews from today” Kumar said.

Customers will also be able to filter the skills based on rating or browse through the top skills in terms of usage or reviews. “We have added more than 1,000 skills within the first 60 days of launch and currently offer more than 12,000 skills to customers.” Kumar said.

This launch comes at a time when Google is preparing to launch its smart speaker Google Home in India later this year. In November, Google started allowing developers build apps for Google Assistant’s developer platform ‘Actions on Google’ to engage with users in India.

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