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Boom time ahead for smart speakers

By Fan Feifei | China Daily | Updated: 2018-03-30 13:30

Industry insiders predict the smart speaker market will evolve rapidly in the next few years, with more devices featuring display screens, which are gaining traction among some of the biggest tech players.

Domestic tech giants are now betting on screen-enabled smart speakers. Chinese internet search giant Baidu Inc unveiled its first smart speaker featuring a built-in touch screen, powered by DuerOS, its conversational artificial intelligence technology similar to Amazon's digital assistant Alexa.

Priced at 599 yuan ($95.7), the smart speaker has a seven-inch screen to display additional information after it is asked a question. It also has a camera, with which it can supposedly recognize its owner's face and customize its answers accordingly.

According to Baidu, customers will be able to watch videos, look at photos, make video calls and search the internet, using either their voice or hands. Moreover, they can order meals, groceries and medicines with voice commands.

"The smart speaker with a big screen is a new category, a new species, representing a new direction," said Robin Li, CEO and chairman of Baidu.

Last week, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd launched its updated human-computer interaction system AliGenie 2.0, which will enable Tmall Genie X1, the company's first smart speaker with visual-recognition capability, to scan and read more than 100 sets of children's books as well as 40,000 medicine boxes.

Last year, Amazon revealed its Echo Show, its first smart speaker with a touch screen. According to a research report from Strategy Analytics, a market research consultancy, the number of smart speakers will increase tenfold from 2017 to 2022, reaching a market size of more than $5.5 billion.

Analysts say the screen-enabled smart speakers will become a trend and have also gradually become an indispensable family appliance in many homes.

"Smart speaker uptake has grown faster than any other consumer technology we've recently encountered," said Lucio Chen, an analyst from market consultancy Canalys, adding that 2018 will be the defining year for smart speaker adoption.

Chen added that as consumers get accustomed to mobile devices with a large screen, so the screen-enabled smart speaker with more interactive functions will be favored by more consumers.

According to GfK, a German market research firm, China's smart speaker sales will experience a sharp increase in 2018, with the sales number expected to hit approximately 1.2 million, and the combination of screen and voice interaction may become the future trend.

"China's smart speakers and voice interfaces are still in the initial stage and it will take cross-sector cooperation to make multiple terminal devices and application scenarios possible," said Fang Lyu, vice-president of LingLong Co, a joint venture between e-commerce giant JD and intelligent speech technology company iFlytek.

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