Amazon has announced that its smart Echo speakers and accompanying Alexa voice service are now available in India, but by invitation only.
Additionally, Amazon announced that the Echo will be landing in Japan “later this year,” according to a separate press release.
Those wishing to buy an Echo, Echo Plus, or Echo Dot in India can request an invitation to purchase a device through Amazon.in today, with local pricing coming in at ₹9,999 ($ 153), ₹14,999 ($ 230), and ₹4,499 ($ 69), respectively. The initial batch of devices is slated to start shipping from October 30.
Echo, echo, echo…
Following an invite-only period that kicked off more than three years ago, Amazon launched the Echo in the U.S. in July 2015 before extending it into Germany and the U.K. last year. India represents the fourth official market launch for Echo, and the first in Asia. The news comes just a week after Amazon unveiled a triumvirate of new Echo devices, including a second-generation Echo, the new Echo Plus, and the Echo Spot alarm clock.
For now, Alexa — the digital voice-activated assistant that can understand and answer your questions — still only speaks English and German. English is, of course, an official language in India, but for the Indian launch Amazon said that Alexa will deliver a “customized Indian experience,” with an “all-new English voice” that understands and converses in local pronunciations and intonation. It will also support music titles, names, and places in additional non-English languages. And Indian developers are building skills for the local market, covering Saavn, Times of India, ESPNcricinfo, Ola, and FreshMenu, among others.
Rumors of an imminent Indian launch had abounded for some time. An Economic Times report from July noted that while English would be the predominant language at launch, Alexa would later be updated to include regional tongues, such as Tamil, Hindi, and Marathi. However, Amazon hasn’t given any indication that this is the case or when a language expansion may be expected.
Battle for the “next billion”
India has emerged as a key battleground for Western tech firms, with Apple committed to selling iPhones manufactured in Bengaluru, Google going all-in to target the “next billion” internet users across the country, Intel spending $ 178 million on a new “smart and green” R&D facility there, and Facebook showing growing interest. Last year, Amazon opened its first Indian AWS data center in Mumbai to help enhance data transfer speeds and to satisfy local data sovereignty concerns.
With the smart speaker market heating up, and both Google and Apple offering devices similar to the Echo, Amazon is keen to get a head start in what could prove a lucrative market for the fast-growing product line. The company revealed that the Echo Dot was its best-selling product on Prime Day in the U.S. this year, though that was probably largely due to its huge temporary discount.