Made in India, made for the world
“Do you have a radio and TV at home? When it gets old, just learn to break that apart.”
Not an unusual answer for the newly elevated Alphabet CEO, who also used the occasion to see how Bolo — a reader app powered by Google AI for text-to-speech and speech recognition — worked on the ground. “Had the chance to visit some students today who are learning to read using Bolo, excited for all the great books they’ll discover,” Pichai, the boy-next-door turned Silicon Valley pin-up, tweeted after the interaction. Bolo, Neighbourly and Tez – they all have something more in common than just being apps developed by Google.
They were, in fact, first launched in India by the $135 billion internet giant, soon after Pichai took over as its chief executive in 2015. Tez, now rechristened Google Pay, is among the top payment apps in India, while Bolo helps kids learn, and Neighbourly is a hyperlocal search app. After Pichai took over, there have been around 20 India-specific initiatives, some of them for global markets, but always first tested and launched in India. Quite often, Pichai himself has been on the ground to launch these products – as the Mumbai school incident shows – and see first-hand the problems people face while using technology.
Most recently, in September, Google launched an AI research lab in Bengaluru, focused on finding solutions to problems in areas such as healthcare, education and agriculture. Google Pay, Bolo, support for local languages, the Neighbourly app, Gboard, the two-wheeler mode on Google maps – all have been possible due to Google’s relentless focus on India, to increase the reach of the internet and educate people on how it could be useful.
“At least 500 million of the Next Billion Internet users are in India and Google knows that,” said Subho Ray, president, Internet and Mobile Association of India.
“All companies are looking for business in India, but Google under Pichai realised that to make deep inroads in the market, they have to develop products for India.”
Google’s digital literacy program - Internet Saathi - along with Tata Trusts is spread across 18 states and aims to cover 300,000 villages in the country.
There are more than 50,000 fulltime Saathis (volunteers), who have helped over 20 million women across more than 200,000 villages.