When it comes to building more inclusive products for the NBUs, voice interaction is one of the most important keys to unlocking digital access. Language barriers, digital or educational literacy challenges, and even vision limitations can be overcome using the solutions offered by voice technology.

Among the NBUs, many of whom struggle to read or type, voice is a critical and the preferred entryway to the digital world. They depend on voice as their primary input method for things like search and messaging, as it is easier than typing.

Typing in Indic and scripted languages (used by many NBUs) is more complex and time-consuming than the English alphabet; typing in Hindi can be three times slower than in English. Voice also offers them the ability to multitask, allowing them to juggle between chores, work, and other personal matters that may require online searches or sending messages.

We have incorporated voice tools in many of our products to make the internet experience more effective for NBUs. Gboard, which allows voice typing, supports more than 900 languages, including over 100 languages in NBU countries like Bangla in Bangladesh, Fulfulde and Hausa in Nigeria, and Cebuano in the Philippines. Google Go allows voice search, and it can read out websites to users and even translate them.

For all its transformational potential, current voice experiences can be unintuitive or unhelpful. To help address some of those challenges, we’ve synthesized key learnings from our research with the NBUs in a “Voice Playbook” — an insights report aimed at helping the ecosystem build more successful voice experiences for everyone.

Voice technology is empowering, granting a feeling of self-sufficiency to a population whose digital confidence is still evolving with each interaction and who might otherwise need to rely on someone else to assist them with even the simplest of online tasks.

Voice technology can be inconsistent and confusing. It has no single, standard iconography to signal its presence. When icons are present, the expected actions are unclear — does one press and hold the button while speaking? What if the user makes a mistake? Unfortunately, the NBUs have the tendency to blame themselves when frustrations arise. After a few such experiences, they are prone to abandoning voice inputs and falling back on keyboard inputs.

Voice tools should allow multilingual input and provide easy language switching. This is because many NBUs speak more than one language and can’t switch voice settings easily. In India, for example, people naturally merge multiple languages in a single sentence. If voice tools can’t understand what users are saying in different languages, it will lead to misinterpretation and prevent users from completing their tasks.

Google Assistant and Vodafone Bring Internet on the Telephone to India

Google Assistant can be a very useful application of voice input and output technology, particularly for those who struggle to read or write.

Unfortunately, it usually requires an internet connection, and in India, hundreds of millions of users need to contend with slow or intermittent connectivity. So how do we get people accustomed to voice technology when the network it’s running on is unreliable? We turned to a concept that everyone understands: a phone number.

To help those who want to get answers from Assistant, we partnered with Vodafone in India to give consumers a dedicated phone line to access Google Assistant.

With the Google Assistant phone line, users simply dial a number for a completely free, internet-independent way to get answers from Google Assistant. Sports scores, traffic details, weather forecasts, help with homework, and more, are now available just with a phone call.

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Urmila and Google Lens.

Urmila is a proud mother of three who lives in Uttar Pradesh, India. Urmila is also one of the nearly 800 million people in the world who struggle to read. Now, the Google Lens text-to-speech feature offers Urmila an empowering solution.

As the next generation of users comes online (and the next billion after that), voice will be the technology that defines the future of the internet. Investing in the efficacy of that future now — in voice tools that are more intuitive and helpful, support multiple languages, are easy to discover and clear to decipher — is sure to pay dividends for users everywhere.


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