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The Indianization of smart speakers is almost complete

Bangalore, November 19 2018: Smart devices are edging themselves into our homes  - and how! Like the camel's  snout which led  the  slow the crawl  into the Arab's  tent,  smart TVs  came in the first wave, merging the twin  worlds of  dish and Internet video. Smart assistants were next -- led by Amazon and Google --  cocooned  in speakers like  Echo and Google Home  which  supported voices like Alexa and Google Assistant.  Both took  their time to launch in India --  aware that Indian languages, even English as spoken by Indians, posed a  challenge for any voice recognition system.
Amazon was the first here -- just over a year ago -- and  the company marked the first  anniversary with  new editions of the  flagship smart speaker --  the second generation  Echo Plus -- and the updated version of the mini speaker, Echo Dot.   I have been trying out both for a week now  and the sound appears  slightly better than before -- but that is not the big thing. What has happened  in the 12 months gone by, is the  Indianization of Alexa.  She is much cleverer in understanding  a broad range of  Indian English, even Hinglish.  You can say: "Alexa, set my alarm for 6 a.m, to play Venkateswara Suprabatham", or "Alexa, what is Kohli's score in the IPL?"  without having  to explain the context or repeat yourself.
The other big change is not so much in Alexa , but the entire ecosystem of smart home devices that  has now  emerged in India, around  the voice  market leaders, Amazon and Google. Just on this page, we have  reviewed Syska smart lamps,  Linksys  routers,  Mi air purifiers -- all ready to take commands from Alexa.   Instead of trying to create voice assistants of their own,  leading  audio brands like Bose, Jabra and Harmon have  embraced the  dominant  smart voice standard.   Once you have installed  the Echo Dot or Echo Plus ( and this is easily done with a phone app and a home WiFi connection)  you can  ask Alexa to connect  you to a variety of  services  that are  now being   called conversational commerce: from  Box8 to Byju's, from  GoIbibo to the Golden Temple,  from  Ola to Uber.... it can get so  addictive, you  may well say: "Why type, when you can talk?"
The Echo Plus at Rs  14,999 is  Rs 10,000 costlier than the Echo Dot at Rs 4,999. But in most respects, except range and  audio  volume, the functions are almost identical. In fact you can use a Dot or two to extend the range of the Plus  across your home. Both of them  share what I thought was a downsider:  There is no inbuilt battery option and you need an always -on mains connection.  I'm betting this will change once the competition hots up.

What  Echo Plus gives for the extra money, is a built-in hub called  Zigbee Smart Home,  which  is one of two  leading standards  for home automation. So if you plan to eventually  control your  washing machine, microwave, fridge,  air conditioner and home security cameras  from one voice device,  this may be a sensible investment. But if all you want is a savvy, all knowing  "didi" to serve as a vocal friend , guide and service provider, the little Echo Dot ( gen 2) does very well thank you!
In some places in Bangalore, you may not even have to buy this. The Embassy group of builders  has launched a brand  of smart apartments called Embassy Edge, which come preinstalled with Amazon Echo devices. Alexa may soon welcome you to your new home with a swagatham!




    


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