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Look out, Amazon. Alibaba now has an entry in the smart speaker race, too

tianmao jingling x1 feature 2
Image used with permission by copyright holder
It’s not just Google and Apple that Amazon need to be concerned about when it comes to competition for its smart home speaker, the Echo — now, Alibaba has entered the ring, too. The Chinese e-commerce giant launched a new device on Wednesday, July 5 called the Tianmao Jingling X1. Simply put, it’s an Echo for Chinese users, and for now, it’s available exclusively in China and speaks only Mandarin.

In some ways, it’s surprising that it took Alibaba this long to jump on the bandwagon. The Echo first made its debut nearly three years ago in November 2014, and since then, a number of similar devices have made their way onto the scene. There’s the Google Home from Alphabet’s Google, the Microsoft Cortana-powered speaker called the Invoke, and the upcoming HomePod from Apple. Indeed, EMarketer projects that almost 36 million Americans will interact with a smart speaker once a month in 2017, an increase of nearly 130 percent over last year.

Alibaba, in fact, is not even the first Chinese company to begin toying with smart speakers. Baidu has created the Xiaoyu Zaijia, and has LingLong DingDong. But what sets Alibaba’s X1 apart? According to a CNBC report, it’s all about the artificial intelligence, data, and built-in ecommerce capabilities. As an Alibaba executive noted in a press conference in Beijing, the X1 already boasts “hundreds of skills” in music, entertainment, online shopping, fitness, and education.

Like similar products, the speaker requires a voice trigger, which in this case is “Tmall Genie” in Chinese. It comes in black and white, and during a streamed demonstration on Wednesday, the X1 was asked to buy and deliver Coca Cola, play music, add credit to a phone, and activate a smart humidifier and TV.

Alibaba’s smart home hub will be quite affordable, at least for the first 1,000 people who get their hands on the new technology. The X1 will sell for about $73 during a one-month trial period. It’s unclear how much it will set the remaining eager buyers back once they discover its full potential.

You can sign up here to buy the device, and the first X1s are set to ship on July 17.

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Lulu Chang
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