Apple has finally listened to its small, but slowly growing user base in India. The iPhone-maker today announced a range of features in iOS 13 that are designed to appease users in the world’s second largest smartphone market.
First up, the company says its Siri voice assistant now offers all new and “more natural” Indian English male and female voices. It has also introduced a romanized bilingual keyboard, featuring support for Hindi and English languages with typing predictions. There is also typing predictions in Devanagari Hindi language that can suggest the next word as a user types and it learns from their typing over time.
Additionally, the keyboard in iOS 13 supports all of 22 Indian languages, with the inclusion of 15 new Indian language keyboards: Assamese, Bodo, Dogri, Kashmiri (Devanagari, Arabic), Konkani (Devanagari), Manipuri (Bangla, Meetei Mayek), Maithili, Nepali, Sanskrit, Santali (Devanagari, Ol Chiki), and Sindhi (Devanagari, Arabic).
The addition of these features comes as Apple cautiously grows more serious about India, where it holds about just 1% of the smartphone market share, according to research firm Counterpoint. Even as smartphone shipment is declining in much of the world, India has emerged as the fastest growing market for handsets in recent years. According to Counterpoint, more than 145 million smartphones shipped in India last year, up 10% year-over-year.
But users in India have long complained about Apple services not being fully optimized for local conditions. Siri, for instance, has so far offered limited functionalities in India, and many Apple services such as Apple Pay and Apple News are yet to launch in the nation.
The upcoming version of iOS, which will ship to a range of iPhone handsets later this year, also includes four new system fonts in Indian languages: Gurmukhi, Kannada, Odia, and Gujarati. These will “help deliver greater clarity and ease when reading in apps like Safari, typing in Messages and Mail, or swiping through Contacts,” the company said in a statement.
Additionally, there are 30 new document fonts for Indian languages Hindi, Marathi, Nepali, Sanskrit, Bengali, Assamese, Tamil, Telugu, Gujarati, Kannada, Gurmukhi, Malayalam, Odia, and Urdu.
Apple says iOS 13 will also enable improved video downloading option for patchy networks. It says users in India can now set an optimized time of the day in video streaming apps such as Hotstar and Netflix for downloading videos. Consumption of video apps is increasingly skyrocketing in India. Just last week, Alibaba said it was investing $100 million in its short video app called Vmate in the nation.
In recent months, Apple has also improved Apple Maps in India. Earlier this year, Apple Maps added support for turn-by-turn navigation, and enabled users to book a cab — from Ola or Uber — directly from within the maps app. The company has also been aggressively hiring people to expand its maps and other software teams in the country, according to job postings on the its site.
Improvements to software aside, Apple has also been working to reduce the cost of iPhones in India, the single major factor for their poor sales in the country. Two years ago, Apple started to assemble the iPhone 7 handset in India. It plans to ramp up its local production in the coming weeks, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.
As part of local government’s ‘Make in India’ program, phone vendors that assemble phones in the country are offered tax and other benefits. Ravi Shankar Prasad, an Indian minister who oversees law and justice, telecom, and electronics and IT departments, said at a press conference earlier today (local time) that Bharatiya Janata Party, the ruling party which was reelected last month, will work on expanding Make in India program as one of its top priorities.