From fetching weather updates to solving math equations, there are few voice tasks that Alexa, e-commerce giant Amazon’s voice assistant, cannot do.

Now, Alexa wants to be on a community device at a railway station, allowing users to simply speak to it to book a ticket, making the payment experience touch-free in a post-Covid world. Or renew your Prime subscription by a simple voice command. Or help the elderly book and pay for a gas cylinder hands-free.

Amazon India has pumped millions of dollars into this project, with a view to creating an all-encompassing payment authentication system based on Alexa, The Ken has learnt. The feature, which will authenticate users by their voice and enable hands-free transactions entirely within the voice ecosystem, would be the first such globally. This would be a game-changer in terms of speeding up transactions, drastically cutting down the number of touches required to make a payment.

So far, the digital assistant’s focus was on being everywhere, becoming ubiquitous as it played you music, quoted Star Wars, and powered up your microwave. With its new payments use case, Alexa has now taken a concrete step towards monetisation.

By supporting everything from UPI UPI Unified Payments Interface (UPI) UPI is an instant real-time payment system that merges various banking services and features under one umbrella to credit cards, the upcoming payment feature will open up a direct monetisation channel for Alexa’s 100,000 India-based developers. This would allow them to charge users for their premium content housed within voice apps, or what Amazon terms as ‘Alexa skills’. 

“It will be a game changer [for in-skill purchasing] whenever that happens,” says a source with direct knowledge of the matter. While one can find parallels between this project and the existing payments systems within the app ecosystems of Android and iOS, the former, an intelligent personal assistant, can be much more than a mere authentication system for app-related purchases. It can simplify daily use cases, such as reminding you about a bill payment and making payments instantly via a UPI ID. Additionally, it could enable vernacular users to purchase things on Amazon simply by speaking to an Amazon Echo smart speaker, where most of the Alexa action still takes place.  

And like the app economy that boomed out of smartphones, this could provide a medium for developers to implement multiple solutions on top of it. “Just like Uber exists because of Android, there could be some billion dollar startups that could be coming out of voice-based systems,” the source explained. 

Alexa already supports hands-free payments in India if a user has added enough balance in their Amazon Pay wallet.

AUTHOR

Munsif Vengattil

Munsif keeps a tab on what Big Tech has been up to in India and all things OTT. He was with Reuters previously, where he wrote investigative pieces on Facebook’s content moderation operations and WhatsApp’s troubles in the run-up to India’s national elections. If you want to talk to Munsif about journalism, tech policy or his love for seekh kebabs, write to him at his first name @the-ken.com.

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