China’s Alibaba Group has launched a cut-price smart speaker to compete with the Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple’s forthcoming HomePod, as announced at WWDC.
Called the “Tmall Genie,” after Alibaba’s e-commerce platform Tmall, the China-only device represents the company’s first step into artificial intelligence hardware. It is priced at 499 yuan ($73.42), which makes it significantly cheaper than the aforementioned rivals.
As with the other devices listed, Tmall Genie is activated using voice recognition (when the user says “Tmall Genie”), and can be used for managing diaries, adding phone credit, searching for weather or news bulletins, controlling streaming music, and interfacing with smart home devices.
It uses Mandarin as its language, and is set to only be available in China, although that could conceivably change further down the road.
Alibaba has often been described as China’s answer to Amazon. In fact, with hundreds of millions of users across multiple shopping sites, it could be considered the biggest online commerce company, according to The Wall Street Journal.
In the past, it has shown a desire to not just keep up with U.S. tech companies, but to occasionally outperform them, too. For instance, in late 2015 it beat Amazon to its dream of drone-based delivery by offering a three-day trial of the technology in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, by delivering tea to a test group of 450 shoppers using Alibaba’s website Taobao.
With AI-equipped smart speakers now being all the rage, it’s no surprise that Alibaba would want to move in on that space, too. Amazon has reportedly sold more than 11 million Echo speakers so far. Apple’s HomePod will ship this fall, priced at $349.