I'm the Technology Editor at Forbes India and I love writing about all things tech. Explaining the big picture, where tech meets business and society, is what drives me. I don't get to do that every day, but I live for those well-crafted stories, written simply, sans jargon.
Flipkart and Amazon India are going head to head, quite literally, running their respective biggest sales of the year on the same days. Both sales have started on Wednesday, with the one difference that Amazon is offering early access to its ‘Prime’ subscribers today, with the sale opening to everyone on Thursday.
One feature of interest that this writer stumbled upon is that Flipkart has enabled a voice search option, suggesting the company has made more progress on this front than its senior engineers are willing to let on.
Voice is seen as one option that would naturally overcome the hurdle posed by India’s many regional languages in the way of deeper penetration of ecommerce. The sophistication of natural language processing has risen considerably today, and Microsoft, a strategic investor in Flipkart is a leader in the technology.
Anyway, I went ahead and tried it and said ‘what’s new’ into the phone's microphone. The phone was only on cellular data connection, and a bad one at that, so it took a while as the mobile site spoke to Flipkart’s cloud and came back with search results showing new watches, instead of what’s new.
However, the cool thing was the software programs turned out to be advanced enough to ask me the following question at the top of search results: “Did you mean ‘what’s new?’ instead.” And ‘what’s new’ was hyperlinked of course, meaning I could tap that and see the results of my original query.
I did that, and the results included mostly books and suggestions such as ‘what’s new in young adult novels’ and even one book titled ‘What’s New, Cupcake.’ Of course there will be many other factors involved, including how often I use the mobile site. The more one uses it, the better the search results are likely to be.
Also, the voice search feature seems to be available only on the mobile site, for now. I checked the smartphone app on my Samsung A5 the best I could check, and the option didn’t pop up. It’s probably safe to say the feature needs work. And it isn’t available yet on Apple’s iOS platform.
On the app on my Samsung, typing ‘whats new’ in the search field also brought up some of the same wrist watches as the top results, but became more diverse down the line, with other products. That said, if one is more specific — and the voice search even prompts you with tips like ‘try saying mobile phones’ — the results are pretty good.
For instance, a colleague over at marketing tried ‘Carolina Hererra perfumes’ and voila, he got eight different ones to choose from. Not bad. The Bengaluru-based ecommerce company made a name for itself in 2015, as I think, with its efforts to build perhaps the first progressive web app to be used at scale in India — mobile sites that mimic many of the features of an app installed on the phone. Other Indian internet companies that followed with their own versions include MakeMyTrip and Ola.
Flipkart’s engineers like to talk about how much they love experimenting — fail fast and move on or succeed and scale. Voice is one experiment they can’t afford to fail at, and judging by the early results of their effort, they aren’t likely to.