Xiaomi, a top global smartphone manufacturer headquartered in China, earlier today launched a smart speaker rival to take on Alibaba’s Tmall Genie X1 and JD.com’s LingLong DingDong. The Xiaomi Mi AI smart speaker will be priced aggressively at only 299 RMB or about US$45 at the current exchange rate. However, TechCrunch is reporting:
Early bird users in China can pick up a Mi AI Speaker for almost free — just 1RMB — in a working-beta test that Xiaomi says will improve the AI systems and “help train [it] to be even more intelligent in the early stage.”
The product specs look very similar to earlier smart speaker market entrants. There is 360 degree coverage from six far-field microphones for speech recognition in an open living space. Audio beam forming is used for echo cancelation. There is also a speaker that claims to have “excellent sound quality.” This looks like a me-too product that intends to compete primarily on price while claiming parity in other features.
The Chinese Market Heats Up
While many global headlines this morning talk about the Mi AI as a new rival for Amazon Alexa, that is a bit misleading. Today, the device is only available in China and it doesn’t appear to have English-language support. It is a direct competitor to the Tmall Genie and DingDong and will be about half the price.
Xiaomi also claims Mi AI will be backed by a “Massive Online Content,” catalog that includes music streaming, audio books, children’s stories and live radio. Interestingly, the emphasis on children’s stories mirrors Alibaba’s launch for the Tmall Genie. There must be great demand in China for something to keep the kids busy. We don’t see that in U.S. marketing due to COPPA and maybe because there are so many other devices to entertain children.
However, there is more to the Mi AI than just streaming entertainment content. Geeky Gadgets is reporting that:
The Xiaomi MI AI Speaker will also come with similar features to Amazon Alexa and Google Home, it can remind you of our calendar events, make calls, get notification alerts and more.
The Chinese and Rest of World Battle Lines Shape Up
There are now four tech giants battling for voice assistant and smart speaker supremacy in China: Alibaba, Baidu, Tencent (through JD.com) and Xiaomi. We also have four U.S. tech giants battling for supremacy in the rest of the world: Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft. We learned yesterday that Facebook may increase that number to five in 2018. However, there is no guarantee that these geographic lines won’t soon cross.
Some of the U.S. manufacturers, Apple in particular, are sure to eye China as an important market. Similarly, the Chinese manufacturers won’t be content to serve only domestics markets. For example, if Xiaomi and Alibaba partner with voice assistant technology companies to add new language model support, they are likely to flood Western markets will low priced smart speakers. This could put pricing pressure on the current U.S. tech companies. It also points out another reason that Amazon’s Echo Dot strategy is so brilliant. The low price is helping the company seize market share today and fend off low price competition that is sure to come.
Apple HomePod Hasn’t Launched, But it Now Dictates Smart Speaker Marketing
We won’t see our first Apple HomePod until December, but the company is already dictating some of the language and visual style for smart speaker marketing. The two Chinese smart speakers that followed the HomePod launch have adopted the gray backgrounds for showcasing the speaker features contrasted with sharp bright settings showing users in the home. The Mi AI also has a big focus on audio quality reminscent of the lengthy HomePod introduction. A quick review of the images below and you can almost imagine them appearing behind Tim Cook at WWDC.
Let’s compare these to Apple’s imagery from the HomePod launch.
Even when Apple is late to market, the company has a way of influencing everything that comes afterward. Oh, and expect this market to become even more fragmented before consolidation and product line abandonment becomes rampant. Until then, enjoy the proliferation of incompatible voice assistants that are about to inhabit about every space we enter.