Yesterday, Voicebot discussed how Alibaba was about to launch a smart speaker and that it was designed to primarily compete with offerings through industry groups controlled by Tencent and Baidu. A short time later, Alibaba introduced the Tmall Genie X1 smart speaker. The Genie X1 is powered by the Alibaba voice assistant AliGenie and will be priced at ¥499 (~US$73) for the first 1,000 users for a one month trial period. Multiplex is reporting that it will cost closer to US$99 after the trial period.
While the video above is in Mandarin, most observers will recognize the use cases are similar to what you will see elsewhere in ads for Amazon Echo and Google Home. Users are requesting music, requesting the Genie X1 to turn off the lights and asking general questions.
AliGenie speaks and responds only to Mandarin. JD.com which is majority owned by Tencent released LingLong DingDong in late 2016 and speaks both Mandarin and Cantonese. It retails for about US$100. Baidu’s home robot with a voice assistant and display screen, Xiaoyu, costs almost US$500.
The Foundation for Voice Commerce
Alibaba is clear that Genie X1 will be about voice applications for information, entertainment and smart home automation as well as for shopping. Alibaba commands 57% online commerce market share in China compared to 25% for JD.com and 0.8% for Amazon according to iReseaerch China (chart here). To facilitate shopping, Alibaba is also introducing VoicePrint technology to confirm purchases by voice according to Brian Rommele of Multiplex.
Alibaba is betting that Voice Commerce will be a central use case for Tmall Genie and it will be able to confirm the identity of the user as an added security measure. The VoicePrint technology is currently unique and a materially important factor for the expansion of Voice First systems.
The service is integrated into Alipay, Alibaba’s eCommerce financial transaction service. Like Amazon’s deep voice commerce integration and special offers features through Alexa, Mr. Rommele expects Alibaba to focus heavily on voice commerce:
Alipay has become one of the largest and fastest growing payment platforms in the world. The combination of Alipay + Tmall Genie will be very powerful. We can expect banking and bill paying Voice First applications to become a central part of Tmall Genie.
The Tmall Genie is a cylinder and with a height of 126mm is about half the size of Amazon’s original Echo, more than three times taller than the Echo Dot and 17mm shorter than Google Home. It includes six built-in microphones with far-field voice recognition up to five meters. The CPU is designed by MediaTek and its product announcement specified that it was for “Voice Assistant Devices and smart speakers, including Google Assistant.”
Focused on the Developer Community
Tmall has also introduced a beta version of the AliGenie developer kit. However, the program requires both an application and an invitation code to get started. The presence of a developer kit, even in limited release, at launch in an important step. This will enable third-party developers to add value to Genie X1 owners by supplying new voice applications.
Amazon, Google and Microsoft all have developer kits to encourage innovation around their platforms. Amazon is the leader in this by a wide margin with over 15,000 third-party skills (i.e. voice apps) compared to just a few hundred for Google and a handful for Microsoft. The Chinese voice assistant developers, Alibaba, Baidu and JD.com, no doubt see this aspect of US competition and at least Alibaba is moving aggressively to create a developer ecosystem from the beginning.