Amazon, the world's largest online marketplace, on Tuesday launched its Echo line-up of smart speakers in the UAE.
The speakers come with a localised version of its virtual assistant, Alexa, finally bringing its popular range of home devices to the Emirates with full support.
Interaction with Alexa – a rival to Apple's Siri, Google Assistant and Microsoft's Cortana – can be done in English and Gulf Arabic dialects, reflecting local pronunciations and intonation. Almost 200 Alexa Skills – app-like functions that can be added to an Echo device – from regional developers and brands are also available.
Omar Al Olama, UAE Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy and Remote Work Applications, welcomed Alexa's entry into the local market “on our way to becoming a world leader in artificial intelligence".
“Much like AI is at the core of Alexa’s personality, we are working on doing the same for the entire nation – building an AI-driven economy that contributes significantly to education, government development, and the happiness of our community,” Mr Al Olama said.
Amazon released the first Echo in 2014, but, like its competitors, it did not quite take off as expected owing to a few issues, most notably those related to user privacy. The company, however, guarantees that all Echo devices are designed with several layers of privacy protection, including physical microphone and camera controls.
Speculation about a UAE launch grew in May this year, when Amazon invited select local users to participate in a beta programme to test Alexa's capabilities, including learning Arabic.
On the other hand, Apple's HomePod, until it was discontinued in March this year, was never made available on its UAE retail channels. Its mini version, however, continues to be sold in other markets.
Google's Home speakers were also discontinued last year, but rebranded as Nest products, They are also still unavailable in the region; trying to access them on Google's online store redirects to a region-picker microsite.
Echo devices that were launched in the UAE include the fourth-generation Echo, Echo Dots and Echo Shows 5, 8 and 10. With its various features, including high-definition screens, cameras and Dolby Sound technology, they can be used to hear news, stream music, control other smart home devices, answer questions, follow sports teams and, in the UAE's case, recite the Quran and set prayer times, the latter feature will be coming soon.
“The team has worked hard to create an all-new Arabic experience designed from the ground up for Arabic-speaking customers and to optimise the Alexa experience in English for English-speakers to enjoy,” said Tom Taylor, senior vice president for Amazon Alexa.
Local Alexa Skills available include those from Expo 2020 Dubai, telecom operator Etisalat, the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, Emirates NBD bank and ride-hailing platform Careem.
“Not only is Alexa coming to the region with Arabic capabilities but Expo 2020 Dubai content is very much part of its introduction. This kind of innovation and cutting-edge technology is in the spirit of Expo 2020 and its themes, and we hope Alexa users have fun discovering even more about this once-in-a-lifetime event,” said Manal Al Bayat, chief engagement officer of Expo 2020 Dubai.