Voice Assistants in Asian Languages: Adoption & Challenges

The adoption of voice assistants is rapidly rising in the West. But what about on the Asian continent? With a rising middle class, a large population, a drive towards touchless technology, and more, the role of voice assistants in private and business settings is getting a strong foothold.

In particular, countries such as China, Japan, and South Korea are seeing increased adoption of these devices. However, with just over four billion speakers of Asian languages, there remains a lot of room for growth in the Asian market.

But who will dominate—Asian or Western players? And what are some of the challenges that Western players might face when entering these markets? Furthermore, how should the localization industry respond to this growing demand? In this article, we cover the answers to these questions and more. Let’s take a closer look.

The adoption of voice-activated digital assistants in Asia

The use of a voice assistant by consumers in the West is a well-researched topic that has yielded impressive insights. But what about countries on the Asian continent? What role are voice assistants playing in the consumer and business landscape? Some figures to give us a broad idea include:

  • 62% of smartphone users in China, India, Indonesia, Japan, and Singapore have used voice-activated technology in the last six months.
  • 50%+ of the same users in the same countries have used it in the past month.
  • Purchases of smart speakers have increased in China, India, and Indonesia over the last six months, while they have stabilized in Australia, Japan and Singapore.
  • In India, Google was found to be the most widely-used voice assistant by the respondents followed by Amazon’s Alexa, and Apple’s Siri, Samsung’s Bixby came in fifth.
  • China’s smart speaker market has overtaken the US, and in 2018, DuerOS from Baidu reached over 200 million devices, in contrast to 100 million devices for Alexa.
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While Google Assistant, Alexa, and Siri are enjoying some success in Asia, local options may quickly gain more traction because American technology companies have been comparatively slow in adding Asian languages to their voice assistant devices.

In fact, as of March 2020, the only Asian languages available for Google’s Assistant were Japanese, Korean, and Hindi. Meanwhile, Alexa’s primary Asian language is Japanese.

Apple’s Siri supports Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Malay, and Thai. However, there are many other Asian languages that require voice assistant development and there is ample room for growth.

As for the Asian players, some of the biggest ones to watch for some of the larger markets include:

  • China: Alibaba’s Tmall Genie, Xiaomi’s Xiao Ai, and Tencent’s Xiao Wei
  • Korea: Samsung’s Bixby, SK Telecom’s Nugu, Naver’s Clova (shared with Line)/Genie, and Kakao’s Kakao Mini
  • Japan: Line’s Clova (shared with Naver) and Docomo’s AI Agent

Benefits of voice-activated digital assistants for consumers and businesses

Using a voice assistant comes with numerous benefits for both consumers and businesses. A few of these include the fact that:

  • Businesses can provide instant access to information
  • Employees can quickly retrieve data and work more efficiently
  • It is cost and time-effective and increases productivity
  • Businesses can provide more personalized interactions with consumers by helping to answer their questions, resolve issues, or offer tailored recommendations
  • Voice assistants are also helping to create more flexible and efficient workplaces

Challenges involved in voice-activated digital assistants in Asian languages

For the Western players that are seeking to enter and grow in the Asian market with their voice assistant technology, a couple of challenges must first be overcome. Among these challenges include:

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Voice Assistant in Asia

  • Training voice assistants to accept different pronunciations. For example, Chinese languages (note: not dialects) will require separate technology for each one.
  • Training voice assistants to cater to second-language speakers and not only to native speakers. Research shows, for instance, that Alexa achieved a 55% accuracy rate with second-language productions compared to 98% for native productions.
  • The challenges of security and privacy concerns and how to navigate this complex landscape should also be considered.
  • The accuracy and reliability of voice technology can negatively impact customer trust and satisfaction if not carried out with due care.

The growing development of localization strategies on the Asian continent

Voice assistant technology companies that are seeking to make inroads on the Asian continent and better engage their customers will need to adopt strong translation and localization strategies in order to become and remain competitive. These strategies should involve:

  • Localizing content that caters to common customer queries
  • Working on improving your website’s domain authority to rank higher in search results
  • Expanding their range of coverage for Asian languages
  • Moving away from simply recognizing vocabulary and syntax
  • Recognizing cultural nuances and slang
  • Localizing and creating bespoke marketing campaigns
  • Focusing on creating personalized customer experiences
  • Optimizing websites and advertising to meet the needs of voice search users
  • Ensuring strong search engine optimization (SEO) efforts for Asian countries by focusing on website speed as well as mobile and desktop optimization