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Amazon’s Alexa now speaks Hindi – TechCrunch

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Only about 10% of India’s 1.3 billion people know English. Yet, that is the only language Amazon’s digital assistant Alexa, which was launched in India two years ago, understands in the nation. That is changing today.

At a press conference in New Delhi on Wednesday, the e-commerce giant said Alexa now supports Hindi, a language spoken by roughly half a billion people in India, as the company looks to expand its reach in the nation. Bringing support for Hindi to Alexa was in works for more than a year, company executives said, noting the unique contextual, cultural, and content-related challenges that Hindi implementation posed.

Users can now ask Alexa their questions in Hindi, and the digital assistant would be able to respond in the same language. The feature, which will begin rolling out through a software update to Alexa devices starting today, currently only supports one voice type for Hindi. (For English, Alexa offers multiple voice types.) In the months to come, Amazon said it plans to add support for multilingual households, which will enable members of the family to interact with Alexa in the language they each prefer.

Support for local languages has proven immensely beneficial to customers in the past, Manish Tiwari, head of devices category business for Amazon India, said at the event. Amazon last year introduced support for Hindi language on its apps and website. It has seen Hindi usage grow on the site and app by six times in recent months, he said.

Rohit Prasad, VP and head scientist of Alexa AI at Amazon, said the adoption of Alexa in India has been phenomenal though he did not share any figures. Prior to today’s update, Alexa supported some Hinglish words, combination of English and Hindi, but the company wanted to bring full-fledged support.

“A lot of how people in India engage with their smartphones and internet services is different from those in United States. For instance, in India, people often search the name of an actor instead of the singer or the band when they are looking for a particular song,” he added. Alexa supports variants of about 15 languages, executives said.

Amazon exec Prasad onstage at an event in New Delhi

Today’s announcement comes months after Amazon added a Hindi voice model to its Alexa Skills Kit, enabling developers to update their skills in India to support the more popular local language.  More than 500 skills on the store already support Hindi, Prasad said today. Google smart speakers gained support for the Hindi language late last year.

Amazon says it offers Alexa customers in India over 30,000 skills across various categories including cricket, education, and Bollywood. The company’s voice assistant is available to users through its smart speakers — Echo Dot, Echo Plus and more — and over three-dozen devices from other manufacturers including Sony, iBall, and LG, the company said.

Hindi should also help Amazon’s smart speakers maintain their lead over Google’s in India. Amazon commanded the local smart speakers market with a 59% market share in 2018, according to research firm IDC. (Google launched its smart speakers in India months after Amazon did its. IDC has not updated its findings since March this year.)

Both companies are locked in a global battle to win users through their digital voice assistants. And they should be: In many markets, including India, first time internet users are increasingly showing that they are more comfortable engaging with their phones through voice instead of typing. Search through voice queries is growing by 270% year-over-year.



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A new app called Banish blocks those annoying ‘open in app’ banners – TechCrunch

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A new app for iPhone users can help you browse the web without being constantly bothered by pop-up panels that beg you to use the company’s app instead. The app, called Banish, is a Safari extension that helps remove the “open in app” banners from various websites and other popups that block content across a number of sites, like Reddit, TikTok, LinkedIn, Twitter, Quora, Medium, Yelp and some Google sites, to name a few.

While there are a number of similar Safari extensions for blocking cookie banners and ads, the scourge of the “Open in App” banners is often not addressed by existing solutions. It’s unfortunate that using the mobile web today requires so many interventions, but that’s the state of things. It’s also possibly a contributing factor as to why people are now spending four to five hours per day in their apps.

Developer Alex Zamoshchin says he was frustrated by the problem, too, as he felt people shouldn’t have to use a company’s app if they don’t want to. Taking inspiration from a similar cookie blocking extension, Hush, he created Banish.

The app was recently featured on Product Hunt and highlighted by the popular Apple blog Daring Fireball.

To use Banish, you’ll first install the app to your iPhone, then configure it in the Settings. This involves a few key steps for Banish to function properly. There are two places where Banish needs to be enabled, under Safari Extensions — you need to toggle on the switch next to Banish under “Allow These Content Blockers” and “Allow These Extensions.” Then you need to set the “Allow” permission to “All Websites” below.

Image Credits: Banish

Once enabled, Banish can help you avoid pop-ups in many cases. But the app can’t eliminate all the “open in app” distractions.

For instance, we found clicking Reddit links would sometimes open in Safari and other times open the native app when we tested it. The developer explained the Reddit app doesn’t consistently use deep links (links that open directly in apps) for all its pages. So while some pages would correctly deep link, others — like Reddit’s Topic pages — would not. We also had to set links to open in Safari by default. The solution was to long-press on the Reddit.com link you want to view, then tap on the option from the menu that appears to open the link in Safari. This will change the default action for Reddit links going forward, Zamoshchin says.

Another issue Banish can’t solve is with those “Open” links that are baked into Safari, like the ones that appear at the top of the page when you visit Instagram.com, for example. That’s a different type of banner than the ones this app was built to address. (If you don’t want to see these, you can uninstall the app from your iPhone.)

There were a few other quirks, as well. LinkedIn, for example, still showed a login box in Safari rather than immediately taking you to the person’s LinkedIn profile, if you were logged out when you visited the site. But that’s just how LinkedIn works. And while Twitter browsing is much easier, its website still includes Login/Signup buttons at the top of the screen and the same sort of baked in “Open” app button that Instagram.com offers at the top of the page. But, again, these are issues that are beyond Banish’s scope.

Still, in other ways, the app proved incredibly useful. For instance, when on Quora, clicking a link to another Quora page would normally pop up a blocker that requires you to log in to continue navigating the website. With Banish, this pop-up was gone and you could use the site normally.

The app is available for download on the App Store for a $1.99 one-time fee. It’s currently the No. 2 app on the Top Paid apps chart in the Utilities section of the App Store.

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Let’s check in with Samsung before next week’s Unpacked event – TechCrunch

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It has become something of a tradition: Samsung announces an Unpacked and all or most of the big products get teased out in leaks in the weeks leading up to event. Sometimes the leaks come before the event announcement, sometimes after, but any hope of keeping its biggest news under wraps appears to have largely gone out the windows.

Samsung has embraced the tradition, to some extent. It has become common practice for the company to — at the very least — tease the hell out of the products ahead of their official launch. This time, it’s foldables. The company has not only said as much — it has included a handy image of a half-folded Galaxy Z Flip 4 in the invite for the big event on the 10th.

As has also become tradition, Samsung Mobile head TM Roh offered up a kind of pre-event toast that covers some of the broader industry trends that have lead up to this moment. Specifically this time out, it’s a state of the union on foldables.I will say, there are some real head-turning figures in here.

“Last year, we saw almost 10 million foldable smartphones shipped worldwide. That’s an industry increase of more than 300% from 2020, and I predict this fast-paced growth will continue,” Roh explains.

The company declared its foldables a second flagship device (or, perhaps, second and third, depending on how you slice it) the moment it killed the beloved Galaxy Note line for good. It’s safe to say the company jumped the gun there, but credit where it’s due: 10 million is an impressive haul for new form factors selling at flagship prices — and above. Durability concerns are largely in the rearview, and the company utterly dominates foldable sales, with estimates of around 80% of the market.

What makes the numbers more remarkable is that they fly in the face of larger trends. Phone sales have had quarter after quarter of bad news. The bright spots in the numbers are generally budget and mid-range phones. Meanwhile, Samsung’s over here seeing tremendous growth in a category priced $1,000 and up. Obviously, the 300% figure is partially due to things starting from a fairly insubstantial number, but the trends are impressive nonetheless. They’re also indicative of users with disposable incoming searching for something novel in a staid market.

However you might feel about foldables in general, you can’t really deny that they are — at the very least — something different.

Samsung’s not been immune from the global handset downturn. In May, reports surfaced that the company was cutting production by 30%. Earlier today, Reuters noted that workers in Vietnam were taking a big hit from slowing sales. Of course, all of this needs to be seen through the lens of Samsung retaining its place at the top of global smartphone sales for quite some time. That is to say, things are slowing, but the company is doing quite well relative to other manufacturers.

Roh also used the opportunity to confirm something we’d strongly suspected all along: Most people prefer the Flip form factor to the Fold — 70% of buyers prefer the clamshell, turns out. Samsung may be the only ones genuinely surprised by that fact. I noted in my original Flip review that it was the first time I could really picture myself using a foldable as a daily driver. Samsung too often gets caught in the trap of making big, unwieldly devices, but the Flip is far more pocketable and more affordable.

That’s no doubt why it made it onto the event invite. Going forward, expect to see the two foldables on more even footing in Samsung press materials — with the Fold perhaps even taking something of a back seat.

This time out, the Flip 4 and Fold 4 are the headliners. Multiple generations in, Samsung has largely settled on design and form factor. Things have been reinforced to the point that durability is no longer primary concern.

Reports center around some subtle tweaks to things like the Fold’s hinge, but we’ve otherwise settled into a cycle wherein these devices are receiving an update cadence similar to devices like the Galaxy S. That means things like the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 Plus processor, coupled with things like a larger battery on the Flip.

The foldables are the headliners, but the Galaxy Watch 5 may be the one most worth paying attention to. Its predecessor found Samsung re-embracing Wear OS through a partnership with Google. But while Samsung is posting good smartwatch sales, it’s about to face a challenger a bit closer to home. Google’s Pixel Watch is a big hail mary from a company that has thus far struggled to live up to its wearable promise. But the company’s acquisition of Fitbit could spell some real competition for the Galaxy line when the new smartwatch arrives this fall.

Among other things, improved battery life and a potential new “Pro” model have been hinted at in leaks.

Samsung has also quietly been making good — and even great — earbuds. They lack the flash and the marketing push of others in the space, but the Galaxy line has always been a solid choice. Again, the company’s suddenly got more competition here from Google’s new — and pretty good — Pixel Buds. Galaxy Buds 2 Pro are reportedly on the way with improved battery. Hard to say how the company might look to otherwise stand out in that extremely crowded field.

So, Samsung’s got a massive headstart in foldables. Sometimes being first means stumbling out the gate, but if you’re persistent, it will start to pay off. Questions exists around where the ceiling is for adoption on the form factor, of course, but Samsung is the best positioned to brush up against it at the moment. Apple still has the company beat in smartwatch marketshare by a mile, and while a partnership with Google is good news on the app front, it needs to keep an eye on the company to hold onto its share of the Android compatible smartwatch market. As for earbuds, the company is combining a good product with a massive smartphone marketshare for an ecosystem play that will move a lot of product.

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Kakao says emoji subscription purchases fell by a third due to Google’s new in-app policy – TechCrunch

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The number of emoji subscription purchases on the South Korean messaging app KakaoTalk has dropped by a third over the year, parent firm Kakao said in quarterly earnings call Thursday, blaming Google’s new in-app payment policy, which forces apps to use Android-maker’s own billing system.

KakaoTalk’s Emoticon Plus subscription service, which costs approximately $3.8 per month, allows users to access unlimited emojis. TechCrunch reported in June that South Korean app developers and content providers stand to see their paid subscription and service fees rise because of a recent change in Google’s Play marketplace that corners a 15-30% commission fee.

Kakao chief executive Whon Namkoong said that the negative impact of Google’s new billing policy is “inevitable,” adding that the number of KakaoTalk emoji purchases had dropped after Google introduced its new payment policy in June of this year.

“From the users’ perspective, because of Google’s new in-app payment policy, the [digital goods] price hurdle has gone up,” Namkoong said. “As a result, if you look at [KakoTalk’s] Emoticon Plus [subscription] service, the number of new users has gone down to one-third of what we had seen over the year.”

Kakao plans to work on countermeasures to respond to the change, Namkoong said. “We are planning on running a promotion for users, using Google’s in-app payment, and also for our subscribers in order to make sure we minimize the impact from the in-app payment in the second half of the year,” he said.

The U.S. tech giant enforced changes to its in-app payment system this June to charge transactions overflowing from non-game apps and other types of digital goods including over-the-top (OTT), music streaming, web cartoons, digital book apps and more. The non-games apps, prior to the change, were permitted to direct consumers to outside payment sources through in-app links.

Google said earlier this year in a blog post that “all developers selling digital goods and services in their apps are required to use Google Play’s billing system,” and clarified that apps using external payment links will be removed from Google Play Store starting in June to comply with Google’s new payment system.

Kakao runs two businesses: the platform business (Kakao Talk, Kakao Mobility, Kakao Pay) and the content business (Kakao games, Kakao Webtoons and Melon music streaming). The South Korean internet company posted its second-quarter revenue of $1.3 billion (1.82trillion WON), up 34.8% from the same period a year earlier, and a net income of $77.3 million (101.2 billion WON) for the quarter, down 68% from a year earlier.

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