Alibaba is launching a home speaker system enabled with virtual assistant technology, similar to Amazon’s Echo and Alexa, but considerably less expensive, according to a Business of Fashion report.
The Tmall Genie costs about $73.42, compared to approximately $120 to $180 for the Amazon Echo and similar products from Google and others.
The Alibaba device will be capable of helping users purchase items on Alibaba’s Tmall marketplace, but for now the virtual assistant speaks only Mandarin and is available only in China.
Alibaba conducted a streamed demonstration of the Tmall Genie this week in which the device performed a host of tasks, according to Business of Fashion. The Genie was used to order and arrange delivery of some Coca Cola, play music, add credit to a phone and activate a smart humidifier and TV, proving that Alibaba has its eye on applications similar to those found on other virtual assistants.
It makes sense for a giant like Alibaba to enter the increasingly crowded home speaker/virtual assistant market. Amazon Echo and Google Home may be the most obvious names in this battle, but Alibaba's entry also comes as Samsung continues to develop its Bixby solution, and Apple is getting closer to rolling out the Siri-enabled, questionably-shaped HomePod.
China gives the Tmall Genie a huge market to play in, though it will be interesting to see how quickly Alibaba adds support for other languages and gets the device into other markets. A study from J. Walter Thompson and Mindshare Futures recently showed that 49% of U.S. consumers surveyed use virtual assistants on a weekly basis, compared with 31% of respondents from elsewhere around the world. Markets such as China may still be in an education and awareness phase, and not yet embracing virtual assistants. (Which reminds us: We haven't heard much about the LingLong DingDong lately.)
The U.S. is clearly the market to be in with this kind of technology, though according to another recent study, more than 70% of consumers using virtual assistants in the U.S. are doing so through Amazon's Echo and Alexa. That means any new competitor in the U.S. will have a long climb to reach market relevancy. As an international giant, Alibaba may have the name and resources to make that climb, but to date it hasn't made much headway in the U.S. Right now, it doesn't look like the Tmall Genie will change that, but time will tell.