(Bloomberg)—The competition in digital speaker-assistants is getting more intense, as Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. unfurled an Amazon Echo-like device and fellow Chinese internet giants Tencent and Baidu prepare to develop their own.
Alibaba’s “Tmall Genie X1” will go for 499 yuan ($73) to the first 1,000 people during a one-month trial, coming in below Apple’s $349 HomePod and the roughly $180 Echo. Its biggest competitor, Tencent Holdings Ltd., is developing a voice-activated digital speaker that could hit the market within months, Tencent President Martin Lau said in a May interview. And on Wednesday, Baidu Inc. showed off its own “DuerOS” personal assistant.
Taking a page from Amazon.com Inc., No. 1 in the Internet Retailer 2017 Top 500, and Google, Hangzhou-based Alibaba’s speaker offers voice-controlled services from music streaming to newscasts and calendar-booking, according to its website. Importantly, the gadget—powered by the AliGenie system—may eventually simplify shopping for the Chinese e-commerce giant’s 450 million active buyers who turn to the website for everything from cherries to makeup. It will begin formal sales starting Aug. 8 only for China and won’t come with a display.
Digital speakers powered by virtual assistants are one of the hottest consumer product categories right now. Apple Inc. (No. 2 in the Top 500) recently debuted its Siri-controlled HomePod, Google launched its Home speaker last fall and Amazon, the pioneer, has been churning out Alexa-powered devices for years.
Shipments of intelligent home speakers surged nearly 600% to 4.2 million units in the fourth quarter, with Amazon taking about an 88% share and Google 10%, according to Strategy Analytics. Spending on smart-home related hardware, services and installation fees will reach $155 billion by 2022, up from almost $90 billion this year with devices accounting for about half of that, the consulting firm estimates.