Innovation

Can Alibaba's new AI-powered smart speaker compete with the Amazon Echo in China?

Alibaba has officially launched the Tmall Genie, a smart home speaker that costs roughly $73. The device is set to compete with the Amazon Echo and Google Home.

Alibaba has officially stepped into the smart speaker market, launching an AI-powered speaker called Tmall Genie on Wednesday, Reuters reported. The full-size speaker will cost 499 yuan (roughly $73 USD) and is set to compete with products like the Google Home and Amazon Echo.

The product shares part of its name with Alibaba's e-commerce platform, Tmall, the report said. Much like other products in the space, users can check their calendar or the weather, and use the speaker to control other smart home devices, the report said.

Users simply say "Tmall Genie" in Chinese to prompt the device to listen for a command. It comes pre-programmed to work with Mandarin and will only be available in China, for now, the report said.

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The Tmall Genie can be asked to purchase products from the Tmall platform, much like how Alexa can be prompted to purchase products through Amazon for a given user. Also like Amazon, Alibaba has also recently been investing in innovative brick-and-mortar stores as well, the report said.

While the Tmall Genie offers an accessible price point—roughly $100 cheaper than the standard Amazon Echo—it lacks the ecosystem that the Echo has behind it. With a few years under its belt, the Alexa ecosystem had a major head start over all the other competitors in the space.

According to a recent report, Alexa boasts more than 15,000 skills. Google, its next biggest competitor, has only 378. If Alibaba wants to make a splash with voice-powered applications, it will need maintain an open ecosystem and lower any barriers to development on its platform.

Still, Alibaba routinely tops the list of China's most valuable brands and that could serve the company well in boosting adoption of the speaker. Regardless, the company will need to push development hard, and routinely seek out strategic partnerships and integrations to sell the value of Tmall Genie.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Alibaba has launched a smart speaker called Tmall Genie that offers similar features to Amazon Echo for roughly $73.
  2. The speaker can be used to check the weather or a calendar, or to order goods from Alibaba's e-commerce platform, similar to Amazon's approach with Alexa.
  3. Alibaba is one of China's most valuable brands, but it will need to expand and scale the Tmall Genie ecosystem quickly if it wants to compete with Amazon.

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Image: iStockphoto/monsitj

About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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