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China's Response to Smart Speakers? Meh

Sales of the devices are not expected to cross the 1 million mark until next year

October 27, 2017 | Advertising & Marketing

New research from GfK shows just how many smart speakers are expected to sell in China this year. The answer? Not a lot.

According to the firm, smart speaker sales will hit just 350,000 units in the Middle Kingdom in 2017, a low figure when considering that the population in China is around 1.4 billion.

GfK expects to see a significant spike next year, however, estimating smart speaker sales in the country at 1.2 million units.

Still, that’s a far behind US levels. According to VoiceLabs, shipments of smart speakers in the US are expected to total 24.5 million in 2017. And, according to eMarketer, the number of residents who use voice-enabled speakers will reach 35.6 million.

Voice-Enabled Speaker Retail Sales Share in China, by Brand, Jan-Aug 2017 (% of total units sold)

So why haven’t they caught on in China, a market where the complexity of Chinese characters seems a natural driver of voice-activated technology?

One reason is that the pioneering product in the space, Amazon Alexa, doesn’t interact in Chinese. Neither does Google Home. So the US market has had some lead time with a native language product.

In China, JD.com’s DingDong smart speaker is the leading product. JD.com accounted for nearly two-thirds of smart speaker retail sales in China in 2016. This year appears to be a different story.

According to GfK’s figures, the DingDong made up 38% of sales between January and August 2017. The Mi Ai Speaker from Xiaomi, an electronics manufacturer best known for its smartphones, had almost one-third of the market, and the Tmall Genie device, launched by ecommerce giant Alibaba in July, already had a 15% share.

—Rahul Chadha

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