Google has made no secret of its plans to target the “next billion” internet users in India, and in recent years the company has unveiled a spate of programs and initiatives designed to get millions more people hooked up to its myriad online services.
Presenting at its fourth annual Google for India event in New Delhi today, the internet giant made a number of announcements that build on these ambitions.
Way back in December, Google announced the latest in its “Go”-branded alternative lightweight apps. Called Google Go, the search-focused app was eventually launched in a number of emerging markets around the world, and Google today announced that the app now sports text-to-speech capabilities that can read articles and web pages out loud. Google VP Yossi Matias told VentureBeat that this system could be expanded to other Google services.
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Elsewhere, Google today revealed a new project designed to help offline print publishers digitize their Indian-language content. The initiative is ultimately about making more content available in native Indian languages. “Right now, the amount of online content in Indian languages is only 1 percent of what’s available in English,” noted Google VP for India and Southeast Asia Rajan Anandan, in a blog post.
The project, called Navlekhā, harnesses artificial intelligence (AI) to transform PDF documents that contain Indian-language text into an editable format, making it easier for print-based publishers — who Google is working directly with — to transfer their content to mobile-friendly web pages. Navlekhā also involves giving Indian-language publishers access to a page domain and free web hosting services, including support for Google’s AdSense advertising program.
The promise of monetization will go a long way toward garnering signups among Indian-language publishers, and as more Indians go online, support for the various local languages will be key to keeping them coming back.
“The majority of internet users in India today are Indian language users, and this number is expected to reach 500 million in the next two years,” Anandan added. “Smartphones are not useful unless they work in people’s primary language and provide access to great content in their native tongues.”
Feeding into this, Google’s personalized news feed within Google Search will also now display stories from Hindi-language sources, in addition to English, while the Google Assistant will now also speak Marathi, the native tongue of more than 80 million people. An additional seven Indian languages will be added to Google Assistant “soon,” according to the company.
Last September, Google launched a new mobile payments app called Tez, which the company said at the time was designed specifically for India. Built on India’s Unified Payments Interface (UPI), Tez supports peer-to-peer payments so you can easily transfer money to friends and pay local merchants or online sellers.
Today, however, Google announced that Tez is being rebranded as Google Pay, the name the company uses for its mobile payments platform in other countries. The underlying reason for this rebrand is that Google is also gearing up to launch Tez in other markets, and deploying multiple payments brands could get a little confusing. “To take Tez beyond India, we will be unifying all of Google’s payment offerings globally,” Anandan said.
But perhaps more interesting, with the evolution of Tez Google has now said will also work more closely with banks to provided “instant loans” to Google Pay users in India.
Supported by programs such as Google Station, which now helps get at least 8 million Indians online each month via public Wi-Fi hotspots, Google is really starting to ramp up its efforts to target India’s burgeoning internet and smartphone user base.