With Djingo, Orange plans to take on Alexa in your home

Alexa. Siri. Cortana. Bixby. There’s no shortage of interest in voice-based technologies at the minute. Companies both large and small are looking to leverage voice recognition technologies in the phone, car, home, or even office. And now French telecoms operator Orange is looking to get in on the action.

At its annual Hello Show innovation day, Orange CEO Stéphane Richard showed off the company’s latest product; a new virtual assistant for the home named Djingo.

At the reveal, Richards had the device – a round speaker far smaller than the likes of Amazon Echo or Google Home which responds to the command “Ok Djingo” - play a piece of music, report how many tweets included the ‘#ShowHello’ hashtag for the event, and send a tweet from his account. The French telecoms provider also announced a deal with German operator Deutsche Telekom to co-develop the speaker device and the software.

Several telcos – including Orange itself - have moved into the smart home space, but aside from the fact digital/virtual assistants require all kinds of Machine Learning smarts, it also involves going against some of the biggest technology companies in the business. As big as Orange is, why is a telecoms company looking to take on the might of Amazon, Google, Apple, plus a host of smaller startups?

“The digital assistant will offer a fluid and convenient way to interact with whoever but also with Orange whatever the time or the purpose,” says Luc Bretones EVP Technocentre Orange & Orange Vallée. “That’s a good reason for us to try to master it end to end and ensure the quality of the interactions in complement and as a part of a multichannel and definitely human relationship.”

“Beyond the technology, we consider that our main assets at Orange are the customer relationship, our local presence in the countries in which we operate, the trust and intimacy we have built with each of our customers.”

The first iteration of Djingo was actually at the previous Hello Show, where Richard announced Nuance-powered voice recognition within its TV application. But although Nuance is well-known in the voice-recognition realm and provided a good base for the TV app, Bretones says his company’s research teams has its own specialists in both artificial intelligence and voice recognition.

“We have been working on these topics for more than two years and much more on the research domain.”

Orange isn’t the only telecoms operator to move into this space. At MWC, the Spanish giant Telefónica revealed Aura, a digital assistant it billed as ‘cognitive intelligence’ that would form the company’s “fourth platform” after physical networks, IT systems, and digital services. According to Light Reading, however, Aura was developed in conjunction with Microsoft rather than Nuance, and doesn’t have a physical product.

By Djingo

Aside from the voice-rec services available within Orange’s TV app, Djingo proper is due to be available in the first half of next year. Upon release, the smart speaker will reportedly allow you to manage Orange connected objects, access advice and personal assistance, make a call or send texts, and answer questions. Further along, Orange plans to propel its own smart home services as well as third party ones.

Bretones promises Djingo’s differentiator will be Orange’s dedicated services management around family communications, smart home, TV, VOD, gaming and entertainment. There will be room for others to play, but it’s unclear if it will be as open as Alexa Skills or Google Assistant Actions at this stage.

“Our goal is to build an open marketplace on which we will be able to negotiate partnerships that fit Orange customers’ expectations.”

The priority is to drive Djingo adoption via Orange hardware, but Bretones says the company “is considering” its options to eventually expand into third-party systems in a similar way to Alexa being available in GE’s Sol lamp, LG’s new fridge, or Ecobee’s new smart thermostat.

“As an open innovation player, we want to build and contribute to a large service ecosystem, via a developer program and an API marketplace.”

Currently, Alexa is only available in English and German, while Google’s Assistant is also limited. Apple’s Siri will have a much wider range of language options if and when they decide to release a home device. At the Show Hello demo, Djingo was issued commands in French, which could give Orange a USP and early lead in many European and African markets.

“Naturally, Djingo’s first words and language are in French,” says Bretones. But he adds that multiple languages are available to the internal Friendly User Testers (FUTS) and suggests there will be language support wherever the company has a footprint, “whether it is in Europe, Africa, or Middle East.”


Also read:
Why companies are giving voice assistants physical forms people can relate to
The rise and rise (and future) of voice
Why voice means we need to rethink the API
Forget the home, voice assistants are invading the workplace



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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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