Google is in talks with a range of companies in India to integrate its voice assistant service in consumer durable products such as air-conditioners, fans and light switches.
The US search giant is also working with some telcos to help enable their subscribers to use voice commands to find out details of their bills and monthly plans.
The US company, which launched its Google Home voice-assisted Bluetooth speakers to compete with Amazon’s Echo, said its first point of contact for its voice assistant service is handset makers that use its Android operating system. India, where 98% of mobile phone owners use Android-based handsets, has emerged as a crucial market for Google.
“India is an incredibly strategic market due to the high adoption of Android and the country is also among the fastest-growing markets for Google Assistant,” said Rishi Chandra, VP of product management and general manager of home products at Google.
While Google has started selling its Home products in a handful of countries including the US and the UK, the importance of India was underlined by the planned introduction of Hindi for the product later this year.
“We’re going to work more and more with local Indian manufacturers for a lot of smart home devices. A lot of key appliances and devices in the home can be voice-activated… We’re making a big investment in India to work with partners in a fundamental way,” Chandra added.
Google didn’t identify the companies it is in talks with. Smartphone companies including Xiaomi, Samsung, Micromax and Intex also make a range of consumer products and appliances such as television sets, air purifiers and air-conditioners.
While Google has started to get interest from Indian and global companies here that want to create voice-activated products, Chandra said their availability is still a year or so away. Once the products are ready, voice integration can be done via application programming interfaces in less than a week.
“You can imagine TV makers or set-top box providers want to have voice activation service so that consumers can change channels by voice commands, or even turning on the TV,” he said, adding that while there could be many use-cases, it was still early days.
He said Google recently brought the AoG (Action on Google) Platform to India and this can be used by telecom operators to build and offer voice-based support services such as outstanding bills and monthly plan usage. He didn’t identify any telcos.
Top operators Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India, Idea Cellular and Reliance Jio Infocomm are competing for subscribers as data takes on a more prominent role than before in telecom services. Jio uses a voice assistant for some of its services.
On the content side, Google has tied up with Gaana, Saavn, India Today and Aaj Tak, among others, to stream content through the speakers. Gaana is owned by a unit of Bennett, Coleman & Co., the publisher of this newspaper.
Both Google’s speakers and Amazon’s Echo are priced almost equally in India.
“The category of home devices is expanding. Amazon is strong on the selling side through their own platform, but Google faces a challenge in that (lack of a selling platform) as it has always faced,” said Tarun Pathak, research director at Counterpoint Technology Market Research.
Google said Tuesday it will sell the Home and Home Mini speakers online exclusively on Flipkart and in over 750 retail stores including Reliance Digital, Croma and Vijay Sales in a bid to counter Amazon’s reach.