Google is betting on native Hindi support for Google Assistant as a way to tackle India's ubiquitous messaging service.
At its second annual "Google for India" event, Google launched several new features and services targeted at getting the next billion users online. Allo was prominently featured at the event, with Google stating that it is working on adding native Hindi support for Google Assistant by the end of the year.
The AI-driven Google Assistant is in its preview mode right now, and while it understands a few Hindi words and phrases, it mostly says that it is trying to learn the language. Localization is Allo's biggest advantage in a market dominated by WhatsApp. The Facebook-owned service is ubiquitous in India, and everyone from financial institutions to government agencies uses it to engage with their customers.
WhatsApp's simplicity is what enabled its meteoric rise over the last two years. For the uninitiated, WhatsApp is very straightforward to use: just enter your phone number, invite your friends, and chat away. You won't find any ads; the user interface is spartan, and most importantly, the service works great on 2G networks and across all platforms. With end-to-end encryption and voice calling now standard, the service is now indispensable. For a majority of the online populace in tier 2 and tier 3 cities, WhatsApp is becoming the primary source of information.
Allo has WhatsApp's simplicity combined with Google's AI smarts.
Google has incorporated the same principles into Allo. The messaging service relies on your phone number, and it has a minimalist UI that merges into the background, putting the focus on your chats. While it currently lacks the ability to sync messages across devices, you do get group messaging, ability to share media with ease, stickers, and Google Assistant. The last feature could prove pivotal in taking Allo mainstream in India.
Localization is a big deal. While there are 100 million people in the country that can converse in English, nearly 300 million count Hindi as their native language. The segment is severely under-catered to, as most services — WhatsApp included — don't offer a lot of options. That's where Google's work over the years in machine learning comes in handy. The company's Knowledge Graph now understands Hindi queries, and when using Chrome on Android, Indian users can seamlessly switch between English and Hindi search results.
Localization is the differentiator for Allo.
By integrating all of these features into Assistant, Google is making its AI smarts accessible to a wider audience. Instead of switching to a browser to search on Google, people can directly type @google in a chat and get their queries answered in Hindi.
As for the initial push, Google may also decide to pre-install Allo on new handsets sold in the country. Micromax has already begun pre-loading Duo on its latest sub-$100 phones, and the company's co-founder has said that the video calling service's simple UI has the potential for mass adoption.
Allo is also in the same category. At its core, Allo is a lightweight messaging service powered by the Google Assistant. The conversational nature of the AI chatbot puts it ahead of WhatsApp, and the localization feature will entice local handset makers to pre-load the app as a way to differentiate their devices for their audience.
Brands like Micromax, Intex, and Lava don't have the engineering resources of major international brands like Samsung or LG, and as such they rely on Google for software services. With Allo and Duo, the company is offering two compelling products aimed at the local audience. While not a unified solution, this is Google's best chance of beating WhatsApp.