The Korea Herald


Competition heats up in AI-powered smart speaker market

Joining forerunners Amazon and Google, new players including Apple enter race of voice-activated speakers

By Sohn Ji-young

Published : June 7, 2017 - 15:38

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Competition is heating up in the global market for AI-powered smart speakers, as more global tech companies introduce new devices to rival forerunning voice-activated home speakers -- Amazon’s Echo and the Google Home.

This week, US tech giant Apple unveiled HomePod, the firm’s first voice-activated standalone speaker running on Apple’s artificial intelligence software Siri. It is equipped with Apple-engineered audio technology and advanced search algorithms.

The $349 Apple HomePod, available in black or white, will begin sales starting from December, initially in Australia, the UK and the US, Apple said in a press release. 
Apple's HomePod (Apple) Apple's HomePod (Apple)

Given Siri, already available on iPhone devices, currently supports more than 30 languages including Korean, Apple’s smart speaker is widely expected to hit other international markets in the near future.

Apple’s foray into the AI-powered home speaker segment comes as many competing tech giants around the world are also launching their own products with aims to grab a share of the growing market.

Amazon’s Echo, released in 2015, currently dominates markets like the US where home speakers are growing in popularity. According to market research firm eMarketer, Amazon will capture 70.6 percent of all voice-enabled speaker users in the US this year.

The remaining portion will be shared among smaller players, such as Lenovo, LG, Harmon Kardon and Mattel, it said.

Despite Amazon’s dominance, the smart speaker market is still considered a worthwhile investment due to its growth prospects. According to eMarketer, 35.6 million Americans are expected to use a voice-activated assistant device at least once a month this year, marking a 128.9 percent growth from last year.

“Consumers are becoming increasingly comfortable with the technology, which is driving engagement,” Martin Utreras, vice president of forecasting at eMarketer said in a statement. “As prices decrease and functionality increases, consumers are finding more reasons to adopt these devices.”

Eyeing this growth, not only Apple but also other tech giants including Samsung Electronics and Microsoft are preparing to launch smart speakers of their own this year.

Microsoft and Harman Kardon, a subsidiary of Samsung Electronics, are slated to release a voice-enabled speaker that plays music and handles everyday lifestyle tasks like managing calendars and checking for traffic this fall.

Named Invoke, the device that has prioritized its sound quality is set to run on Microsoft’s artificial intelligence platform Cortana equipped with natural language processing abilities. The device is expected to hit the market sometime in the third quarter.
Samsung's Bixby (Samsung Electronics) Samsung's Bixby (Samsung Electronics)

In addition, Samsung Electronics is also rumored to be preparing a home audio device likely to be equipped with its own voice assistant Bixby. According to recent news reports, Samsung has been granted design patents for a new standalone audio device at a time when the tech giant is looking to expand Bixby’s applications.

Many non-hardware companies have also announced plans to launch their own exclusive smart speakers targeting both local and international markets this year, alongside smaller startups active in the business segment.

Japanese telecommunications giant SoftBank said last month it is teaming up with Osaka-based robotics startup Plen Cube to launch a wireless smart speaker that responds to voice commands within this year.

In Korea, local network operators including SK Telecom and KT have already introduced Korean-language AI speakers targeting the domestic population.

Adding to the mix, internet service companies including Naver, operator of the country’s biggest portal website, and Kakao, which runs Korea’s top-used mobile messenger KakaoTalk, are preparing similar devices that make use of their vast local user data pools, within the year.

Naver currently is working with its Japanese mobile messaging subsidiary Line to introduce a new smart speaker, the Wave, under the Line brand this summer. Kakao also said it would release an AI-powered speaker that responds to voice commands by the year’s end.

By Sohn Ji-young (