Mobvoi Launched New Smart Speaker Tichome

Tichome, Mobvoi’s new smart speaker is going to get crowdfunded and be released soon.

Mobvoi held a press conference on August 24th, announcing the official release of its brand new smart speakers Tichome at a price of 999 yuan. Members who were in on the crowdfund can purchase the speaker at a price of just 649 yuan.

This speaker uses a common cylindrical design and is made from European imports of wool, North American maple, and finished with a matte texture. Users may interact with the speaker through the mobile phone or simply voice activate it. It is also equipped with QQ Music, the Himalayan FM, Toutiao.com (a Chinese news website), Qingting FM, and many other apps integration, as well as other functional supports such as account information synchronization, voice-activated playback, music library creation, etc. This is the first time QQ Music collaborated with a smart speaker in China. Similar to the Amazon Echo, users may also control other home devices using Tichome, a collaborative effort from Mobvoi and other manufacturers such as the Bolian Group and Lifesmart. There’s even a setting for users to customize the atmosphere during playback. Furthermore, Tichome can be connected and used with other Mobvoi products using the internet.

Going after the speaker market is but a natural passage for Mobvoi to embark on. The company started off developing natural voice interactive technology. Thus, it’s only natural that it land on both feet on a suitable product. Mobvoi is hoping to design its own personal account system and provide a comprehensive “virtual personal assistant” to users by connecting every device around the user such as smart phones, clothes, and vehicles, etc. Its current product line covers smart clothing and automobiles. The former includes a variety of products such as the company’s Ticwatch and smart headphones, while the latter includes the Ticmirror and Ticeye, a in-car robot integrating Mobvoi’s voice engine. And domestically speaking, the biggest demand for a smart voice-interaction device undoubtedly goes to speakers. And as early as April 18 this year, Mobvoi held a press conference, announcing its plans of developing a smart speaker, and opened up a beta test for it by recruitment.

At this point in time, smart speakers is placed in quite a subtle position throughout the world of technology. Outside of China, smart speakers are considered as the go-to product when it comes to voice-interaction and an entry-level product in terms of smart home devices. On one hand, stakeholders throughout the industry chain even publicly denounced the technology, claiming that they are definitely “not optimistic about the development of smart speakers”, yet on the other hand, it is still a highly competitive market, attracting ample well-known manufacturers to set foot in.

Just before the release of Tichome, Alibaba launched a smart speaker called “TMall Genie”, priced at 499 yuan. Xiaomi planned the relsase of its own smart speaker at the price of 299 yuan, with the exact release date unspecified at this time. And prior to all this, several companies have released smart speaker products as well.

However, compared to foreign markets, sales throughout the domestic market is still at an uncertain figure. With just Echo alone, Amazon racked in a sales volume of over 10 million; while domestically, the largest sales volume may be from DingDong, a cooperation between JD and iFlytek. The official announcement of the company claimed that it sold a million units in total, an achievement that is 10% of Echo’s sales.

Normally speaking, the more competitive a market is, the easier it is for products to fall into a price war. TMall Genie and Xiaomi’s smart speaker have, to a certain extent, lowered the user expectation for the prices of smart speakers, making it more difficult for manufacturers to turn a profit. Before the conference, Li Zhifei told 36Kr that for the smart speaker release this time, it costs about 500 to 600 yuan just on the hardware component “boom” alone. And along with procurement costs, the speaker itself is really not turning a profit at all. If you take into account the R & D, labor costs, post-market operations such as ads and commercials, the cost is likely to be even higher than estimated. Even if Mobvoi were to sell over 100,000 units, it may not be able to profit from it. Previously, a VAR (value-added reseller) has also told 36Kr that just on contents alone, the cost is no small figure. Music apps such as Migu and Xiami, will inevitably set up their own cooperation standards as well: reach a sales volume of over 100,000 units; pay an entry fee of 40–50 million yuan, with the minimum of at least 30 million to start off; pay separately for each speaker; and if the play count exceeds the limited number of playbacks, the manufacturers would have to pay additionally.

Li also analyzed for himself that the ones to be able to seize this opportunity and make this product boom, are likely those who not only have the technology, but the channels and content to meet the demands of the market, such as BAT-level companies. TMall Genie for instance, already has a head start with its earlier release. With the development of smart voice-interactive products early in 2012, Mobvoi accumulated loads of experience technology-wise. The company has also obtained several cooperation channels throughout this process and began discussions of musical content integration already. It has successfully established a cooperation with Tencent’s musical app, QQ Music. Li estimates that there will only be about 5 major players thorughout the future of the smart speakers market in China, with Mobvoi being one of the five.

This article originally appeared in 36Kr and was translated by Pandaily.

Click here to read the original Chinese article.

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