The pandemic has brought out the best in smart home assistants as we spend months and years confined to a few rooms. For many, the companion we often turn to for music as well as information about the world outside is Alexa, who resides in Amazon Echo speakers, phones and so many other devices. Home is where people let their guard down and have fun. Alexa is there all the time… well, at least four years in India during which millions of Indian customers have used the voice assistant in English, Hindi and Hinglish, with almost 50 per cent customers coming from non-metro cities. According to Amazon India, the number of requests to Alexa in 2021 increased by 68 per cent since the previous year. What makes Alexa so special to us?
Offers great answers to inane questions
I have three Alexa-enabled devices (across generations), the most-used being the one in the study where long hours are usually spent, up to even 12 hours. Between video calls and while writing articles, music forms the backdrop almost all the time, pulling up Bruce Springsteen and Robbie Williams catalogues often via Amazon Prime Music. Then there are those inane questions that the Echo Dot needs to answer: “Do I sound fine today?”, “What can I have for snacks?”, “What’s the best seed to sow in spring?” Most of these queries make no sense but it’s a conversation nonetheless, a conversation that Alexa often manages to hold for a longer period of time now than she did four years ago. To offer perspective about how central the digital assistant has become in our lives, during March-April 2021, customers asked 11,500 questions every day about Covid, health and wellness related topics.
When the first Amazon Echo speaker arrived, Alexa was often lost for answers, much like a newcomer. The years have been kind to her and her AI smarts have improved in way of music recommendation and answers. Being needy, we humans can bond even with a rock, if circumstances force us. Most queries earlier were met with “I’m not sure about that.” No longer. Alexa’s jokes have improved and so have answers depending on past reactions. It seems customers in India interact with Alexa multiple times in a day. The voice assistant has entertained customers by playing more than 21.6 lakh songs each day, across genres. In 2021, with a move to neural speech recognition technology, Alexa became more accurate in understanding user queries and Automatic Speech Recognition errors have been reduced by 25 per cent.
Alexa likes playing games
With a 10-year-old in the house, Alexa often becomes a part of conversations the kid has with her friends. Suddenly, Alexa is attacked by a bunch of children with questions like “Is Rick Riordan better than J.K. Rowling?”, “Alexa, do you like Google?”, “Alexa can you sing a song?”… and Alexa does her best to entertain. The digital assistant has been a great friend to children during the pandemic. From sports, movie dialogues, and word definitions to tough math problems, weather, and the latest stock market updates, customers have quizzed Alexa with around 1.7 lakh questions every day.
An Amazon Echo Show 10 resides on the kitchen counter and this one is probably the coolest usages of Alexa for a whimsical “chef” like me. From time to time, I get an urge to prepare something or the other, and helping with instruction videos in the kitchen is this particular Alexa-enabled device. The screen swivels as I move around, always offering the best viewing angle. And the sound is booming.
The AB effect
“Amit Ji, tell us a dialogue from Sholay.” Having Amitabh Bachchan as the first-ever celebrity voice of the virtual assistant in India has been a win-win for Amazon. The move has helped us easily warm up to the digital voice assistant. The other interesting move has been to have Alexa come built-in with Mahindra XUV700.