Baidu’s Raven H latest in long line of smart speakers
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Baidu’s Raven H latest in long line of smart speakers

Chinese internet giant Baidu, often described as the Google of China due to its domination of the country’s search market and its focus on artificial intelligence (AI), has released a smart speaker. The Raven H comes with a $256 price tag, making it more expensive than competing devices from JD.com and Alibaba, and will feature the company’s DuerOS operating system. This is an important step for Baidu, which is waiting until AI assistants are widely adopted before it starts trying to monetize DuerOS.

Baidu’s share price has risen by 47% so far this year

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SOURCE: Yahoo Finance

In the west, virtual personal assistant (VPA) smart speakers are a hot trend. We have Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Google’s Home all in competition for a market that has become flooded in an incredibly short space of time. Not so in China, where the trend has yet to catch on.

Spectators have offered some guesses as to why China – which tends to be ahead of the west when it comes to tech and Ecommerce – might be a slow starter on the smart speaker front. Amongst those suggestions is the possibility that younger Chinese simply don’t spend enough time at home to find the devices particularly appealing.

Nonetheless, ambiguity over the cause of this disinterest means that the big tech companies aren’t taking any chances: better to drive a revolution than wait for its possible emergence and be caught short. Hence Alibaba and JD.com have both debuted their own smart speakers in recent months. Early signs, however, point to Baidu’s unit (which launches in December) as being a step up in quality as well as price.

This product (or more likely, its descendants) could, of course, one day make an appearance outside of China. For now, Baidu is content to make subtler pushes into foreign territory. The company’s DuerOS general manager, Kun Jing, said:

“At a certain stage, we’ll probably be more aggressively entering markets in addition to China and we’re currently making plans. When we acquired Kitt.AI -- a Seattle-based company -- the company already had many international customers like Spotify.”

Disclosure

Dominion holds Baidu in its Global Trends Ecommerce Fund.


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