The race to the bottom in voice control smart speakers has officially begun. Alibaba, the Chinese version of Amazon, has unveiled its $73 Tianmao JinglingX1, or Alibaba Tmall Genie X1 for short. The device is only available in China for now and only speaks in Mandarin. According to CNBC, two other giant Asian firms have also unveiled voice control smart speakers: search company Baidu with its Xiaoyu Zaijia and e-commerce company JD.com with its LingLong DingDong.
These new players come on the heels of Apple's recent HomePod unveiling, with a much heftier $349 price tag. Apple's approach is a higher-end play, coming in at a much higher price tag than rivals Amazon Echo and Google Home while targeting Sonos on the audio quality side. Meanwhile, news reports from Techcrunch indicate that Samsung will migrate its Galaxy phone voice control system, dubbed Bixby, into its own voice control smart speaker. The code name for the Samsung unit is “Vega,” according to Techcrunch. Meanwhile, Sonos has a 76 percent market share amongst CE pros in the wireless audio category, while Amazon Echo has a 55 percent market share in voice control.
Integrators who thought they might have been able to maintain some semblance of margin in this category will likely be very disappointed. But, the category clearly now looks to be the key entry point to introducing new potential clients to the capabilities of smart home technology. According to the research firm EMarketer, nearly 36 million Americans will use a smart speaker at least once a month during 2017. That represents a jump of almost 130 percent over last year.
According to CNBC, an Alibaba executive said during a press conference the X1 already has “hundreds of skills” in music, entertainment, online shopping, fitness, and education. The Tmall Genie X1 goes on sale August 8.
Will all the drive-to-the-bottom competition from players like Alibaba Tmall eventually help niche player Josh.ai, which has a much more expensive version out there targeted at the custom installation community? Josh.ai's system is a full smart home control system with voice control at a price tag of $10,000.
For integrators, the voice control category is a double-edged sword that cannot be ignored. Customers will be seeking assistance from CE pros to integrate their voice control devices with various other systems in their home, from security to music to lighting control. The mere existence of the product category will feed dealers' new potential prospects. On the flip side, the low-cost devices will bring into question the cost of other smart home control devices that dealers deploy. Also, the category will not allow for margin markup.