Manoj Kumar, a roadside tea-seller near Deshbandhu College in Kalkaji, recently purchased his first smartphone from a neighbourhood store. The entry-level phone, priced under Rs. 4,000, has a 4-inch display and runs Android, Google's mobile operating system that powers more than 90 percent of all smartphones in the country.
Ever since the 33-year-old West Bengal-born Kumar bought his smartphone, he says he often streams cricket matches and movies on his phone. But when he wants to find some information on the Internet, he asks his customers for help.
Kumar is one of over 230 million people in the country who are not comfortable navigating their phones and swaths of services in English. He would much rather speak to the phone in his native Bengali dialect, he told Gadgets 360. Kumar's situation represents both a major challenge and at the same time, an avenue for growth for Silicon Valley companies, which are increasingly trying to find their next hundred of millions of customers in India.
On Monday, Google said people will be able to use voice search in many more languages. The Android-maker is adding support for 30 new languages, eight of which are from India. The new Indian languages are Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu. Prior to the roll-out, which will reach most Android phones Monday, Google's voice search only supported Hindi language in India. The company said it will roll out these features to its services on iOS in the coming weeks.
The move will enable millions of Indians to access Google's Search -- as well as Gboard app, which is also adding support for these languages today -- more easily. There are more people in India (about 234 million as of late last year) who prefer using their native language online than those who can get by with English (about 175 million users), according to a study by KPMG.
As many as 60 percent of such users have cited limited availability of local language and content in that language as the barrier that is withholding them from making much use of these smartphones, the study had said.
"A lot of new people who are going to get onboard are going to increasingly bank on systems that they are more comfortable with," a Google executive said, responding to a query by Gadgets 360. "Voice may be that dominant system versus typing. There is every chance that voice may play a bigger role in bringing those next groups of people online."
Google said using voice medium to make searches also saves users much time. Voice search is three times faster than typing, the company said citing a study. Without disclosing any India-specific figures, Google said it already sees voice medium used for making 20 percent of all the searches on its search platform.
For several new users, speaking is often an easier way to navigate, a Google executive said. This is especially true in part because several of these people purchase entry-level smartphone with small screens. Typing can especially be a challenge on such phones, Daan van Esch, technical program manager at Google said in a press briefing.
As much of India's population comes online for the first time in the coming years, the of Indian language Internet users is expected to skyrocket. KPMG expects more than 530 million Indian language speakers to be on the internet by 2021, while people preferring English will see only slight more penetration standing a little shy to 200 million.
You would want those new users to feel at home when using Internet or your services.