Google this week added Hindi to the languages spoken by its "Allo" digital assistance service, the company's Siri-and-Cortana competitor.
The Register fancies this is a pretty significant thing to have done, because the world has about 400 million Hindi speakers in India alone, with plenty concentrated in states like Bihar where just 60 per cent of the population are literate (according to 2011 Indian census data. By making it possible to talk to a phone, rather than confront a keyboard, Google's therefore made its products more accessible to an awful lot of people.
It's also probably leap-frogged Microsoft, which taught Cortana to speak Hindi last year and offers an Android incarnation of the tool. MIcrosoft doesn't have a popular mobile platform of its own to carry the assistant into rural India. That's important because Windows 10 PCs won't make it as far into rural India as cheap Androids. And there's little reason for a smartphone buyer confronted with Hindi-speaking Google tools to ever go looking for Cortana. Apple's nowhere in India.
Google's therefore just introduced a very significant piece onto the board of the game in which web titans play to win “the next billion” people to come online. And unlike Facebook, which had its Free Basics chased out of India on grounds its efforts looked a lot like the kind of civilising mission with which India is all-too-familiar, Google's speaking the locals' language. Literally.
Which is not to say that adding Hindi is going to make things easy for Google. There's still not a lot of Hindi content online. And then there's the problem of illiterate folks being able to speak to their phones, but struggling to read the search results. ®