Over the years, voice-based applications, including over-the-top (OTT), have been gaining popularity, changing the way users communicate and access entertainment. Some of the major growth drivers of voice-based apps are increasing smartphone penetration, affordable data and rising demand for smart speakers. According to Google, India stands second in the adoption rate of voice-activated technology, after the US. Over 76 per cent of Indian users are familiar with voice recognition technology. As a result, Hindi is the second-most common language on Google Assistant, behind English.

The uptake of voice tech is also shaping the way Indian users interact with their smartphones. However, the growing concern over data security and privacy is impeding its widespread adoption in India.

A look at some of the developments in the audio app market…

Audio app market

In recent times, voice technology has rapidly emerged as an alternative to typing in India. It is being preferred by users for searching and browsing media online, as it allows engagement in local languages. Thus, in order to better cater to user needs, brands across sectors have started experimenting with voice technology.

There are various start-ups adopting artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR) solutions to resolve issues using voice tech. For instance, Reverie Technologies has launched a voice suite, Gopal, comprising 12 languages, to help Indian enterprises engage with non-English-speaking customers. Further, Dhiyo, an AI-powered voice platform, helps job seekers to create profiles or resumes by using voice assistance on their smartphones.

Voice tech addressing illiteracy and accessibility problems

According to the World Population Review 2021, despite being one of the major mobile-centric countries, India has a literacy rate of 74.4 per cent, with a population of almost 358 million that still remains illiterate. In view of this problem, AI-enabled voice assistants are being developed. They can understand several regional languages, identify different accents and vocabularies and transform textual content into a more accessible audio version. The text-to-speech solution is also bridging the gap between information providers and receivers. For instance, publishers such as Jagran New Media, Network18 and India Today are participating in the audio-first movement. This will enable them to build an audience base and deliver better quality. These efforts to connect the last mile and make India digitally equipped will help the country in overcoming the literacy barriers.

Drivers of audio apps in India

Affordable data prices

The heightened competition in the Indian telecom industry has led to a significant drop in data prices. In addition, the emergence of several low-cost global smartphone manufacturers and enhanced feature phones has resulted in a significant increase in per capita data consumption in the audio app segment.

Stronger 4G availability

Besides speed and latency, 4G availability remains one of the key drivers of the audio market. Stronger 4G connections and affordable data packs are enabling the audio app market to grow.

Growing market for smart audio devices

Another growth driver of this segment is the strong demand for smart audio and connected devices. This has made audio content easily accessible and improved consumer experience.

Demand for smart voice applications

With the advancement in automatic speech recognition, natural language processing and AI, enterprises across sectors have also started using audio apps to improve their operational efficiency. This has increased the use cases of voice-based chatbots over the years.

Audio OTT

Domestic audio content giants including like Gaana, JioSaavn and Airtel Wynk primarily dominate the Indian audio OTT market. These apps offer ad-supported streaming and subscription-based business models. According to industry reports, Gaana leads the domestic audio OTT market with over 150 million monthly active users (MAUs), followed by JioSaavn with over 100 million MAUs. Gaana occupies a market share of 30 per cent while JioSaavn holds 24 per cent. Among the international players, Spotify remains the largest audio streaming platform, with a market share of 15 per cent. The others are Apple Music, Amazon Music and Google Play.

With affordable and better data bandwidth, on-demand, non-music digital audio start-ups such as aawaz.com, Kuku FM, Pratilipi, Hubhopper and Khabri are gaining traction. These audio companies are now commanding larger audience engagement across demographics. Recently, various start-ups attracted investor interest and obtained early funding. In February 2021, Hubhopper raised $1.3 million, while storytelling platform Pratilipi received around $30 million funding in 2020.

Entering the fray

With digital audio becoming the contemporary medium, the segment is fast expanding its audience and advertising potential. This has led to the entry of various leading media giants into the market. For instance, in November 2020, YouTube announced its foray into audio advertising. According to YouTube, in early testing, over 75 per cent of audio ad campaigns resulted in a significant lift in its brand awareness. Further, in April 2021, Facebook announced its plans to launch a series of products under the umbrella of social audio. The tech giant plans to add a product that will allow groups of people to listen to and interact with speakers on a virtual stage. Further, a podcast discovery product will be launched and will be connected to Spotify. Similarly, in March 2021, Twitter opened its live audio chat room called Spaces for Android users. Users can hold audio discussions through spaces. The chatroom will also allow them to join a “space” through invites. Further, Apple is expected to launch a podcast subscription service, Podcast+, soon.

Challenges and the way forward

While tech giants see a tremendous potential in the Indian voice app market, one of the major challenges is the lack of data sets for regional languages. At present, the majority of such voice-based assistants in India support only English, whereas the dominant form of communication is Hindi as well as other regional languages. User privacy is another issue. The voice app companies often use data to train deep learning models, which can expose users to privacy concerns. According to a report by Microsoft, around 41 per cent of voice assistant application consumers believed that trust and privacy were major issues in their adoption.

That said, with technological advancements kicking in, the industry is coming up with innovative use cases on both the hardware and the software front. The tech giants are focusing on addressing the privacy issues of these apps. Net, net, voice-based apps can significantly ease consumer interaction. Going forward, they will also provide efficient operations across multiple industries, including banking, media, healthcare and education.

By Shikha Swaroop