Google wants to bring its AI voice assistant, Google Assistant, to within a phone call’s reach. The initiative, which was announced earlier today at the Google for India conference, is aimed at increasing Google’s reach to areas in India that still do not have access to internet, and where feature phones are predominant. This brings Google Assistant to a phone line, operated by Vodafone-Idea, which can be accessed toll free by anyone, by simply dialling 000-800-9191-000.
Manuel Bronstein, vice president of product management at Google, stated, “Hindi has become the second-most used Assistant language globally, after English.” This shows the reason why Google is increasingly focusing on India, bringing to the fore multiple services that are designed to specifically cater to Indian needs and requirements, such as the Google Spot platform.
One of the initiatives is Google Assistant, which will offer search results including local shop opening and closing times, distance to landmarks, general knowhow and more, just like the regular Google Assistant does on an Android phone. However, instead of accessing the information only through a screen, the Google Assistant can now be accessed by dialling the above-mentioned hotline, even from feature phones in areas that have no or very inconsistent internet connectivity. The initiative is a part of Google’s Next Billion Users initiative, in a bid to increase user engagement around digital services such as the Google Assistant.
Alongside the phone line for Assistant, Google also announced new features aimed at offering localised services to users in India. This includes using Google Assistant natively in Hindi and nine new Indian languages, namely Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam, and Urdu. Furthermore, the Google Assistant will now have visual character recognition built into less expensive devices such as entry level smartphones, which will also work in low data conditions to live transcribe and translate text written in different languages. The service will reportedly be announced on Android and Android Go platforms in the near future, but a fixed rollout date was not given.
The additions to the Google Assistant platform join Google’s expansion of the Google Pay platform, which now offers businesses with more customisability in creating in-app experiences, and easier onboarding to adopt digital payments. With these new services, Google will look to cater to a country where, despite the rise of connectivity and digital services, feature phones still account for nearly half the country’s total mobile phone users.