• Tech mistake |Alexa Skills Kit is now available to developers to build Alexa skills for Spain
  • Amazon Echo smart speakers will launch later in 2018, date not disclosed but October is a good bet
  • Sonos and Bose will ship Alexa-powered smart speakers in Spain in 2018
  • This doesn’t mean Alexa Spanish-language support will soon be available in Central or South America

Amazon announced yesterday in a series of blog posts that its developer software development kit, Alexa Skills Kit (ASK), is now available for Spain and Italy. Spanish language support is a long-awaited upgrade to Alexa capabilities. Babbel and Wikipedia both list Spanish as the second most-spoken native language worldwide behind Mandarin with English in third. Spanish also ranks fourth in terms of second languages spoken but is well outpaced by English. When combining first and second language familiarity, English tops the list at 1.12 billion and Spanish is 512 million. The vast market of Spanish-language speakers made it an obvious target for all voice assistant providers.

BUILDING ALEXA SKILLS IN ADVANCE OF LAUNCH

Noemie Cornu of Amazon said in a multiple blog posts yesterday that developers can now use ASK to build Alexa skills that can be certified and available when Amazon Echo and other Alexa-powered devices launch in Spain later this year. As Voicebot mentioned in an earlier post about Italian ASK availability, Amazon has fallen into a familiar pattern of announcing ASK availability in advance of smart speaker launch. This provides developers with a chance to build third-party skills that can be available as soon as Alexa-enabled smart speakers start shipping in the country. The approach also helps Amazon because the third-party skills add more perceived value to the Alexa ecosystem.

Amazon launched ASK 64 days ahead of Echo shipments in Australia and 112 days prior to availability in France. The latter is a better analogy for Spain because there are no Spanish-language third party skills in other markets that could be made readily available upon launch. France was in a similar situation. Australia had the benefit of English-language skills originally developed for the U.S., U.K., and Canada already available even if no localized Alexa skills were launched. However, ASK availability ensured some local Aussie skills were ready to go in early February when Echo smart speakers arrived. Similarly, India claimed to have over 10,000 English-language Alexa skills available the day Echo smart speakers launched in the country with only a handful localized to the country.

If smart speakers follow ASK availability by 112 days, then you should expect Echo devices to start shipping around October 8th of this year. With the announcements for Spain and Italy, Amazon has committed to having localized versions of Alexa and Echo smart speakers available in 12 countries in 2018 compared to 17 for Google Home and six for Apple HomePod. Of course, more announcements could be forthcoming from each of these companies about availability in 2018. A table summarizing current and announced smart speaker availability with a localized voice assistant for both language and culture is provided below.

Country Amazon Echo Google Home Apple HomePod
Australia 2018 2017 2018
Canada 2017 2017 2018
Denmark TBD 2018
France 2018 2017 2018
Germany 2016 2017 2018
India 2017  2018
Ireland 2018
Italy TBD 2018  2018
Japan 2017 2017
Korea TBD 2018
Mexico TBD 2018
Netherlands TBD 2018
New Zealand 2018
Norway TBD 2018
Singapore 2018
Spain TBD 2018 TBD 2018
Sweden TBD 2018
United Kingdom 2016 2017 2018
United States 2014 2016 2018

Google Assistant was made available on mobile devices for users in Spain and Mexico in November 2017. The company said in May that Google Home smart speakers would be available in both countries sometime in 2018. As a result, the move into Spanish, Italian and French has been a new experience for Amazon playing the role of fast follower as opposed to smart speaker market pioneer.

If you want to know who is likely to get an Alexa-enabled smart speaker next, look at the list in this post and see which countries are relatively large but not there. The countries in the list are unlikely to get a localized Alexa and Echo offering anytime soon.

WHY THIS DOESN’T MEAN SPANISH LANGUAGE SUPPORT FOR ALL SPANISH-SPEAKERS

The vast majority of the Spanish speaking world lives outside of Spain, but this doesn’t mean they will have Alexa available in their home countries. Language models used by voice assistants are specific not only to the root language itself, but also to localized dialects, accents and culture. That is why the English-speaking Alexa in the U.K., U.S., Canada, Australia and India are all different. They sound different, have different vocabularies and the natural language understanding (NLU) must account for significant cultural variety. Noelle LaCharite is now at Microsoft but previously led the machine learning team at Amazon that was building out the new language models. In Episode 45 of the Voicebot Podcast she commented that even wake words must be localized.

“The wake word can’t be the same…If you just go in and drop down the list of available languages and just switch it to one that you don’t speak or that you’d like to hear … [you will find] the wake word is different in different languages.”

Wake word identification is far more complex than most people think, but it is just one difference. You need an entire automated speech recognition (ASR) system that interprets regional language-variants correctly resulting in a correct speech-to-text transcription. You then need to apply natural language understanding (NLU) that accounts for cultural and geographic location variance. LaCharite said this process requires contributions from thousands of people for each new model.

There is not one Spanish. There are many flavors of Spanish and that means localization for Central and South American Spanish-speakers is not here today. However, once a base language model is completed, localization is a much faster process so it may well be that Mexico and some larger Spanish-speaking countries could still see Echo availability in 2018 or early 2019.

SONOS AND BOSE BOTH COMING TO SPAIN WITH ALEXA ONBOARD

The announcement also states that Sonos and Bose will distribute Alexa-enabled products in Spain “later this year.” Device manufacturers that want to develop products with Alexa integration for Spain can request early access to a developer preview of Alexa Voice Service (AVS). This access program is invitation only. However, it means that consumers in Spain will not only have Echo products to choose from, but likely will see a variety of devices from manufacturers they are already familiar with for audio and home entertainment products.

The article was originally published here.