Amazon announced it is officially launching Amazon Alexa and three Echo devices in Canada. As of today, our neighbors to the north will be able to pre-order an Echo, Echo Plus or Echo Dot with an estimated shipping date of December 5th. Canadian Prime members will now also have access to Prime Music with custom playlists only available in their country like “Quebec Country Now.” In addition to customizing playlists for Canada, Amazon has also created a Canadian version of Alexa, which according to the company will include “a new English voice with a Canadian accent, local knowledge, and local skills from Canadian developers.” The new Alexa will also have Canada-specific skills from companies like Air Canada, TD Bank, TELUS, CBC, The Weather Network, Bank of Montreal, Manulife, Aviva, Yellow Pages, and more.
What About French?
While the Alexa customizations to appeal to Canadian customers are impressive, there is one glaring omission: Alexa still cannot speak French, which is the other official language in Canada besides English. When Google Home launched in Canada this summer, it gave users the option to choose either one as Google Assistant’s primary language. But this may not impede Amazon’s chances of success because according to Wikipedia, French is only the mother tongue for 20.6% of Canadians and only 1.5% speak French exclusively.
Amazon might be fine in Canada, but Alexa’s lack of multi-language support could hinder its global growth. While Alexa can also speak German, Hinglish and Japanese in addition to English, it has lost its first-mover advantage to Google Home in Australia, Japan, Canada and France this year. And just in the past month, Google announced Google Assistant now supports new languages like Italian and Spanish for Spain and Mexico. You can bet Google Home launches for those countries are not far behind.
Different Market Approaches
When you look at how the two companies have approached the smart speaker market, it is clear both are playing to their strengths. Amazon has taken a more retail approach with Alexa to appeal to consumers. It has the most skills, the most third-party integrations and it has the most in-house number of devices for consumers to choose from. The company also focused on voice shopping early on.
That being said, Google is playing to its strengths as a global technology company. Being the world’s most popular search engine means Google knows a lot and know a lot of languages. This means the company already had a head start in both language support and natural language understanding, both which are key to developing a multi-lingual voice assistant. Google is leveraging these assets to roll out Google Assistant and its Home speakers to as many countries as it can – and quickly.
Amazon’s dominance of the US smart speaker market could be attributed to the fact that it was the first. It will be interesting to see if the first-mover advantage plays out the same way for Google in Canada. The results could change either company’s market approach.