Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 3 April 2020

Alphabet’s Google Assistant rolls out Arabic service across the Mena region​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

The Arabic version of the digital assistant is now available in 17 regional markets

Alphabet-owned Google Assistant rolled out its Arabic service in the Middle East and North Africa region on Tuesday.

The Arabic version of Assistant, first unveiled in Saudi Arabia and Egypt in April, will now be available on both Android and iOS operating systems in 15 new regional markets including the UAE, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Algeria and Morocco.

“Whether you are on the go or just have your hands full, the Google Assistant is a natural evolution to making technology more helpful,” said Marvin Chow, vice president for global marketing at Google, on the launch of the Arabic version.

Launched in 2016, Assistant is being installed on more than 1 billion devices globally, experiencing growth in the number of users by almost four times in the past couple of years, according to Google. However, the company did not break down the numbers for the Mena region.

Some financial institutions, including OCBC Bank in Singapore, are using Google Assistant for voice banking. Photo: AFP
Some financial institutions, including OCBC Bank in Singapore, are using Google Assistant for voice banking. Photo: AFP

To access Assistant’s Arabic version from Tuesday, Mena users must ensure their smartphone interface is in Arabic and the Google app is updated.

In a similar style to Amazon's Alexa, Google's Assistant allows users to ask any question, as they would in Google Search through a smartphone or laptop, and receive an instant answer.

On average, Assistant queries are 200 times more conversational than Google Search, according to the tech giant.

“At the heart of the Assistant is the idea that you can ask for what you want in your own words using your voice and get exactly the right response,” said Mr Chow, adding, “Just like in Search, this is made possible with our understanding of language.”

Google said Assistant use in the Mena region spikes in the morning when people begin their day, and in the evening as people prepare for the next day.

“Assistant queries are 40 times more likely to be action-oriented than Search … with people asking for things like ‘send a text message’, ‘take me to the airport’ or ‘turn on aeroplane mode’,” said Google in a statement released on Tuesday.

As of 2017, Amazon’s Alexa accounted for 62 per cent of the intelligent digital assistant market worldwide, with Google Assistant making up another 25 per cent, according to Hamburg-based researcher Statista.

Google is forecast to be the dominant brand in the industry by 2020, however, increasing its market share to nearly 43 per cent. Alexa’s market share is expected to come down to 34 per cent by next year, said Statista.

Given the versatility of the Arabic language, Google said Assistant will understand different dialects of the language but will only answer in modern standard Arabic.

The global digital voice assistant market is expected to grow quickly in the coming years. There are nearly 3.35 billion digital voice assistants in use today, according to UK-based Juniper Research, which forecasts that 8 billion will be in use by 2023.

Assistant’s success in the Mena region will be driven by higher internet penetration and a wider availability of smartphones, said Google.

Internet penetration in the Middle East reached 67.2 per cent at the end of April while it was close to 56.5 per cent in the rest of the world, according to Internet World Stats.

In the past, big tech companies such as Google, Amazon and Apple have come under fire for collecting audio extracts from consumer devices and subjecting those to human review, a practice critics say attacks privacy.

Google said it no longer engages in the practice and users can opt out from having their conversations reviewed by the company.

Updated: December 11, 2019 06:27 PM

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