Google Android now bets big on local languages

  • 05 Jun 2024
  • Read 5 mins read

Localization holds the key to Android

Since the smartphone revolution began about 15 years back, two companies have dominated the operating system. While the Apple IOS has still been the more expensive platform for users, the mobile operating system with true-blue mass-market popularity was always Google Android. For a cost-conscious market like India, Google Android was the obvious choice. But they get the next set of 300 million users of Android in India will not be easy. For that, Google has a 2-point strategy comprising of cheaper smartphones and localization of content and access to the internet.

 

Making cheaper smartphones available

This is the first strategy that Google is looking at to make the next big leap for the Android platform. Back in 2020, when Google picked up a strategic stake in Reliance Jio, the idea was to explore how to reach out to the next 300 million potential users. These people would typically belong to smaller towns and rural areas. They would have limited purchasing, volatile income flows and a more conservative spending style. Hence the existing hardware would not appeal to this market. That is ok for the urban market, but then the urban market has its own limitations in terms of size and replacement needs. Today, reliable smartphones are too expensive and the cheaper smartphones are just not reliable. That is the hardware niche which Google is looking to fill first.

Localization of content and access

Competitively priced hardware is just one part of the story. For the next big leap to capture another 300 million customers, the Android platform will have to become a lot more intelligent, localized and customized to the non-English speaking mass Indian market. That is something that the Google Android platform is working overtime on. However, the challenge is not just about language but also about offering multiple access points like text and voice. This will ensure that the Android platform is also able to capture the not-so-tech-savvy crowd in India’s smaller towns and rural areas.

Obviously, this kind of localized content would mean nothing less than over a hundred languages and dialects, many of which may be too complex to standardize and input into the command chain. That is where Google Android is heavily counting on artificial intelligence (AI). In fact, Google Android has been working on an AI platform that can handle more than 100 Indian languages across voice and text. Google expects this to be live soon and once it is made a reality it would drastically widen the internet access much beyond the urban English users. Whether such a platform would be compatible with analytics allowing Google to mine data is something we can look at in the next step. For now, the AI platform for multiple languages could be a big leap.

Learning from the Nokia experience

For now, Google Android has a grand plan in place and it should help them actually reach out to what is called the bottom of the pyramid market. However, leadership in any technology product can be awfully ephemeral and Google would know that only too well. Just about 14 years back, Nokia dominated the handphone hardware market. What they did miss out on was the shift to smartphones, which Apple and Samsung went on to dominate. But the real loss to Nokia came from their Symbian O/S, which was just not robust enough to handle smartphones. Apple and Android came with a much superior product and the rest is history.

Google realizes that to sustain leadership in the smartphone O/S market, it has to reinvent the future and for that, it has to capture the untapped market in India. For now, it looks like a smart bet, but we have to see if it truly pays off.

Content Source: Bloomberg Quint