There are many battle lines when it comes to introducing voice assistants to new users. In India, Google Assistant will get a big boost from the JioPhone. India Express is reporting that the $23 feature phone will get “a special version of Google Assistant, making its the first feature phone to come with the software giant’s voice-controlled smart assistant. The announcement was made at Google for India event in New Delhi.”
Beyond the Smart Speaker
Google Assistant support for India was announced in November 2017. However, the support was thought to be limited to Android and iOS smartphone users since the Google Home smart speaker is not available in the country. The introduction of Google Assistant on a low-cost feature phone was not contemplated by many. However, it represents a tremendous opportunity for Google. The price point of feature phones means that Google Assistant will have reach to a large population of users that are not likely to be early adopters of smart speakers. This will enable them to build awareness and habits around using Google Assistant as opposed to another voice assistant.
Voice is Ideal for Low Functionality Devices
In addition, this is good for users. Voice is ideal for low functionality devices like feature phones. The lack of a high resolution screen and robust mobile apps means that Google Assistant can provide access to information, services and applications that wouldn’t otherwise be available to these users. Voice access may even make feature phones more desirable by slightly narrowing the feature gap with smartphones.
Reaching a Large and Desirable Market
A Kantar Media and Mobile Marketing Association study found that 85% of India’s urban population owned a mobile phone, but 56% of them were using feature phones. Of the feature phone owners, only 15% planned to upgrade to a smartphone. However, this lack of interest in smartphones may not be a function of income. The report found that 75% of feature phone owners were in the upper two Indian income brackets and on average spent 20% more on their mobile plans. They were also 1.4 times more likely to access the internet from their phone than a laptop or desktop.
This looks like good news for Google. Amazon Echo is already available on a limited basis in India, but Google Assistant is rolling out to millions of smartphones and now feature phones. Pervasive access could be a big early advantage for Google Assistant as it works to build user marketshare in India.