Alibaba Is Challenging Google and Amazon With a New Echo-Like Device

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Alibaba's campus in Hangzhou, China.
Alibaba's campus in Hangzhou, China. Credit: Alibaba Group

The competition in digital speaker-assistants is getting more intense, as Alibaba Group 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, or about $73, to the first 1,000 people during a one-month trial, coming in below Apple's $349 HomePod and the roughly $180 Echo. The company's biggest competitor, Tencent Holdings, 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 showed off its own "DuerOS" personal assistant.

Taking a page from Amazon and Google, Hangzhou-based Alibaba Group Holding'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 from August 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. 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.

-- Bloomberg News

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