Apple is not the company I think of when I think of linguistic leadership.
After all, the Apple website only just added Arabic over the past year, raising its language total to 35.
When it comes to tech companies, 35 languages is on the low end.
Contrast that with the Microsoft website, with support for 44 languages. And Windows 10 supports an impressive 111 languages.
And then there is Facebook, with support for 99 languages, up from 80 just two years ago.
Here is a screen shot of the Facebook global gateway:
As for Google, its search interface supports more than 150 languages. And many of Google’s services surpassed 60 languages more than a year ago; YouTube now supports 76 languages with Gmail at 73 languages.
But there is an area where Apple still has a head start on the competition: Voice User Interface (VUI) localization.
As in Siri:
According to this recent Reuters article, Apple
But there is at least one thing Siri can do that the other assistants cannot: speak 21 languages localized for 36 countries, a very important capability in a smartphone market where most sales are outside the United States.
Microsoft Cortana, by contrast, has eight languages tailored for 13 countries. Google’s Assistant, which began in its Pixel phone but has moved to other Android devices, speaks four languages. Amazon’s Alexa features only English and German. Siri will even soon start to learn Shanghainese, a special dialect of Wu Chinese spoken only around Shanghai.
The language issue shows the type of hurdle that digital assistants still need to clear if they are to become ubiquitous tools for operating smartphones and other devices.
The language race is on and it will be interesting to see if Apple can maintain this lead. Google has a wealth of language data on hand along with significant expertise in machine learning. Microsoft has similar resources and is newly committed to web services. And Amazon remains the wild card. It has historically been slow to embrace localization — its website supports a mere 13 languages. But given the early success of its Alexa assistant, I’d say that languages are now a priority. And this is not just a language race, but a dialect race.
As for me, I’m partial to the Siri’s Australian English.
This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.