The voice of Google’s Map services in Nigeria had a British or American accent. Now you may be wondering “what could be so wrong with that?”, and to answer simply, nothing is really wrong with that. However, when you factor in the fact that the voice found it quite difficult to pronounce Nigerian names then you can imagine how that Nigerians weren’t too thrilled with it.
Google has decided to sort it out or at least it is attempting to Google last month announced that it is rolling out the “Nigerian English option” to correct the previous mispronunciations. Commuters in Nigeria can now choose to hear travel advice in a Nigerian English voice on Google Maps.
This option is not restricted to Maps alone. The Nigerian English voice option will be available in other products like Google Lens, Google Go, Google Assistant, and Bolo. The new feature which aims to attract more Nigerian users was unveiled on Wednesday, July 21, 2019, in Lagos. From detailed maps, Google is now offering motorcycle ride-hailing services. Speaking about the motorcycle ride-hailing services, Google’s director of product management, Ramesh Nagarajan, said,
“There are 10 million (motorcycles) in Nigeria, it’s hugely popular. We’re going market by market based on popularity.”
Google is planning similar motorcycle ride-hailing services for Uganda, Togo, Rwanda, Ghana, and the Benin Republic.
The brains behind Google’s Nigerian English option
The Nigerian English option has received mixed responses on social media. However, little is said about the brain behind the project. The linguist and 2016 Quartz Africa Innovator honoree, Kola Tubosun led a small team to create the Nigerian English option. However, irrespective of the diverging opinions, most users agree that the Nigerian voice is a better representation of how Nigerians speak. Speaking about the response to the Nigerian accent, Tubosun said,
“I knew it would be useful but I also knew that some people would complain when it came out.”
Coming up with a standard local accent for the Nigerian English option was difficult. This is because there are over 200 different local languages in Nigeria. Consequently, each of these languages has different vocal tics, tones, and accents when speaking English. To make up for these diversities, Tubosun assembled a diverse team of people from different language backgrounds. Tubosun said,
“If you watch a movie and you hear someone speak with a New York accent, you say that’s an American accent—you won’t say it’s a New York accent. There are peculiarities that I can point out in standard Nigerian English and there are peculiarities that apply to regions, what we tried to do was stick with the standard as much as possible.”
Google’s sustained expansion in Africa
Google continues to push expansion in West Africa especially Nigeria. In 2017, the internet giant launched Wi-Fi hotspots across Lagos. The company is also running programs to train millions of Africans in tech skills. Google has entered into a partnership with Road Preppers Technologies Ltd to gather data on different routes. With the data, Google can tell users the best route based on weather, traffic, and road conditions. A Google senior product manager, Jeff Albertson said,
“What we’re really hoping is for people who might be making a trip to an unfamiliar town, maybe a journey they don’t usually take, to be able to discover the info they need to make that journey.”
Highlights of all the features unveiled by Google
Accompanying the Nigerian English option is a list of other exciting features tailored for the Nigerian market. Below are some of the features. To enjoy these features, visit your Google Play Store and download the necessary upgrades.
Online safety curriculum
In partnership with the Nigerian government, Google announced an online safety curriculum for primary and secondary school students across the country. The program is targeting an estimated 56 million students annually. Consequently, Google is collaborating with educators and experts in digital safety to develop a curriculum that will address what young people need to know. Speaking about the importance of the curriculum, Paul Nicholas, the Director, Trust and Safety at Google said,
“The online safety curriculum aims to teach young people the fundamentals of digital citizenship and safety so that they can explore online with confidence. We want to empower young people to make positive changes.”
Local Guides is a community of passionate people who contribute images to maps to better reflect the world that they live in. There are about half a million local guides in Nigeria. However, that figure has more than doubled in the past one year. These local guides have added over 140 thousand new businesses on the map. Consequently, this helps millions of people choose where to go. Because of the help of local guides, Google has been able to introduce panoramic street images. Explaining this feature, Ramesh Nagarajan, the Director Product Management, Google Maps said,
“StreetView makes it possible to preview places before you go or experience places you might never be able to visit in person. We are launching StreetView in Abuja, Benin City, Enugu, and Ibadan. We have added almost twelve thousand new kilometers of road. Nigeria is an incredible country and we are hoping StreetView will help people learn more about it.”
Consequently, users of Google Map who use the Nigerian English option will be able to hear the names of streets in a familiar Nigerian accent.
The traffic tab, for the first time, brings non-conventional means of transport into Google Maps. This includes the popular yellow buses in Lagos, the tricycle (keke) and motorcyclists (okada) as well as the walking routes. The traffic tab gives you a quick glance of information like the traffic, weather, and so on. Introducing this feature, Jeff Albertson, the Senior Product Manager, Google said,
“The traffic tab gives you a snapshot about the information that you care about; traffic and weather, bus stop, business and the current expected tax fare levels for danfo. You can easily find routes, not only for the BRT but also for danfo by typing your destination or choosing it from the suggestions.“
Gallery Go is optimized for Android Go. However, it is fast and lite helping you to conserve your data. The three main features of the Gallery Go are smart (helping you to organize your photos), editing (comes with easy to use editing tools), and performance (it is fast). Consequently, Google is collaborating with itel to bring Gallery Go to new devices. According to Ben Greenwood, Product Manager, Next Billion Users,
“Gallery Go is an offline-first and an easy to use gallery. It’s specially designed for our next billion users and it is optimized for Android Go. It’s fast, it’s lite, and it won’t use up all your data.”
The previously released Google Go has also be upgraded. Consequently, the new Google Go has a read-aloud feature that enables you to read the content of every website.
Google Lens and Bolo
Google Lens and Bolo are both educational apps. With Google Lens, you can point your camera at an image and have the app read the text on the image. The app can also translate the texts into a language that you can read. The good news is that you can have Google Lens read the text in Nigerian English. With the new upgrade, Lens now supports Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo (the three main tribes in Nigeria). According to Nitin Kashyap, Product Manager, Google Research,
“Millions more Nigerians can use Lens to help translate and search words as they go about their day.”
Bolo, on the other hand, is a speech-based reading app with one-to-one assistance to help children learn how to read using their voice. Bolo is now available in Nigeria and Ghana. You can download it from https://g.co/bolo.
Google Arts and Culture
Google also rolled out the Google Arts and Culture for the Nigerian market tagged; Come Chop Bellefull: A Taste of Nigeria. The platform showcases Nigerian arts and cuisines. Consequently, anyone from any part of the world can now explore the diverse and rich culinary beauty of Nigeria. The next focus of the project is on music.