Samsung and Alibaba Join the Digital Assistant Speaker Race

According to sources, Samsung Electronics is integrating its digital assistant Bixby into a voice-activated speaker, in a project dubbed “Vega” that has been ongoing for more than a year. Competition is stiff in the voice-powered speaker market, with popular options from a variety of tech leaders. Digital assistants — including Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana and now Samsung’s Bixby — use artificial intelligence to “learn” over time. New speakers are joining the race later this year, and China’s Alibaba Group is currently debuting an inexpensive version, Tmall Genie.

The Wall Street Journal notes that eMarketer says, “Amazon’s Echo has captured more than 70 percent of the U.S. market for voice-activated speakers, with Alphabet’s Google Home next at around 24 percent,” and “the number of Americans using such speakers at least once a month will reach about 36 million this year, double last year’s figure.”

New products will roll out by the end of 2017, with Microsoft’s Invoke, a voice-controlled speaker that can make phone calls, and Apple’s HomePod.

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Samsung’s English-language Bixby (above) was a much-anticipated feature of the Galaxy S8 smartphone. But it was postponed when the S8 debuted in April, and now is expected to roll out by the second half of July. Bixby is available in Korea, and is being “piloted in an ‘early access’ program with tens of thousands of U.S. consumers.”

VentureBeat reports that Alibaba Group, meanwhile, has launched a “cut-price voice assistant speaker … its first foray into artificially intelligent home devices.” The Tmall Genie, “named after the company’s e-commerce platform Tmall,” is for sale for under $75 (499 yuan), compared to Amazon and Google’s versions, “which range from $120 to $180.”

The device can check calendars and weather reports, control smart-home devices, and buy goods from the company’s Tmall; it will only be available in China. Another Chinese company, Baidu, has also launched a voice assistant device, based on its Duer OS system.