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Amazon launches Echo and Alexa in India and Japan

  • Amazon is launching its Echo speaker range and Alexa smart personal assistant in India and Japan
  • Customers in India can get Alexa and Echo by invitation only starting on Wednesday
  • It is Amazon's first foray into Asia with these products
Handout: new Amazon Echo
Amazon

Amazon is bringing its Echo speaker and Alexa smart personal assistant to India and Japan, the company said on Wednesday, marking its first foray into Asia with those products.

The U.S. e-commerce giant said that Alexa and Echo are now available by invitation in India, and are coming to Japan later this year.

Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Plus are voice-controlled speakers that have Amazon's artificial intelligence (AI) personal assistant Alexa built in. They allow users to talk to the speaker to carry out tasks such playing music or setting reminders.

The devices will start shipping in India later this month, and Alexa and Echo will be available in Japan later this year.

An Amazon spokesperson told CNBC that Alexa will understand when a person speaks English with an Indian accent. But the voice assistant can also fully understand context and intent, even if the sentences include Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malyalam, or Punjabi proper nouns, for example, names of places, people, songs, and movie titles.

The spokesperson could not comment on Alexa's ability to understand Japanese, but pointed CNBC to a press release.

"The customer response to Alexa and Echo has been incredibly positive. We're excited to make them available for our Japanese customers later this year so they can help shape Alexa as she evolves," Toni Reid, vice president of Amazon Alexa, said in a statement.

This could suggest that Amazon is working on Japaneses language support, though the company could not confirm this.

In India, the Echo will be priced at 9,999 rupees ($153).

Amazon has been slowly expanding its Echo product range to other countries since it was first launched in the U.S. in 2014. In 2016, it brought the Echo to Germany and the U.K., its first markets in Europe.

It has subsequently launched different versions of the Echo, such as the Echo Show, which has a touchscreen. All of these are powered by Alexa.

Japan and India mark Amazon's first foray into Asia with the Alexa and Echo products.

Tom Taylor, senior vice president of Amazon Alexa, said the company is bringing its developer tools to allow people to create apps to India and Japan to create "localized Alexa experiences."

The smart speaker market is getting increasingly crowded and Amazon faces stiff competition from Google Home and Apple Homepod. Alphabet-owned Google is rumored to be developing a new version of its smart speaker product.

India has been a big focus for Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos. Last year, the company said it would invest $3 billion in the country. And Amazon's original content team has been focusing on localized TV shows as part of its Prime service in India.

"We're grateful that customers are responding — Amazon.in is the most visited and the fastest growing marketplace in India," Bezos said after the company's first quarter earnings in April.

"It's still day one for e-commerce in India, and I assure you that we'll keep investing in technology and infrastructure while working hard to invent on behalf of our customers and small and medium businesses in India."