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Amazon launches Alexa and Echo by invitation in India, Japan coming later this year

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Amazon has announced that its smart Echo speakers and accompanying Alexa voice service are now available in India, but by invitation only.

Additionally, Amazon also announced that the Echo will be landing in Japan “later this year,” according to a separate press release.

Those wishing to buy an Echo, Echo Plus, or Echo Dot in India can request an invitation to purchase a device through Amazon.in today, with local pricing coming in at ₹9,999 ($153), ₹14,999 ($230), ₹4,499 ($69) respectively, with the initial batch of devices shipping from October 30.

Above: Echo on Amazon.in

Echo, echo, echo…

Following an invite-only period that kicked off more than three years ago, Amazon launched the Echo in the U.S. in July 2015, before extending it into Germany and the U.K. last year. India represents the fourth official market launch for Echo, and the first in Asia, and the news comes just a week after Amazon unveiled a triumvirate of new Echo devices, including a second-generation Echo, the new Echo Plus, and the Echo Spot alarm clock.

For now, Alexa — the digital voice-activated assistant that can understand and answer your questions — still only speaks English and German. English, of course, is an official language in India, but for the Indian launch Amazon said that Alexa will deliver a “customized Indian experience” with an “all-new English voice” that understands and converses in local pronunciations and intonation. It will also support music titles, names, and places in additional non-English languages, while Indian developers are building skills for the local market, covering Saavn, Times of India, ESPNcricinfo, Ola, Freshmenu, among others.

Rumors have abounded for some time that an Indian launch was imminent. An Economic Times report from July noted that while English would be the predominant Alexa language at launch, it would later be updated to include regional tongues such as Tamil, Hindi, and Marathi. However, Amazon hasn’t given any indication that this is the case, or when a language expansion may be on the cards.

Battle for the ‘next billion’

India has emerged as a key battle ground for Western tech firms, with Apple committed to selling iPhones manufactured in Bengaluru, Google going all-in to target the so-called “next billion” internet users across the country, Intel spending $178 million on a new “smart and green” R&D facility there, and Facebook showing growing interest too. Last year, Amazon opened its first Indian AWS data center in Mumbai, to help enhance data-transfer speeds and to satisfy “data sovereignty” concerns.

With the smart speaker market heating up, with both Google and Apple offering similar devices to that of the Echo, Amazon is keen to get a head start in what could prove a lucrative market for the fast-growing product line. The company revealed that the Echo Dot was its best-selling product on Prime Day in the U.S. this year, though in reality that was probably largely due to its huge temporary discount.

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