Smart speakers, other AI-enabled devices poised to become the Next Big Thing in China

March 15, 2018
Industry News
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Meng Jing
meng.jing@scmp.com

Demand in China has the potential of growing rapidly on the back of the major internet companies’ ecosystem of services and as the nation’s online population further expands

China, already the world’s biggest smartphone and internet market, appears set to become a major consumer of a range of gadgets enabled with artificial intelligence (AI), including voice-activated smart speakers and robots for the home, according to a new study.

Interest in such AI devices was found to be the strongest among consumers in emerging economies Brazil and China, according to this year’s Global Consumer Insights survey by professional services company PwC.

It found Brazilian and Chinese consumers were twice as likely to plan buying an AI device – 59 per cent and 52 per cent, respectively – as their American, British or French peers, with interest at 25 per cent, 24 per cent and 25 per cent, respectively.

The annual survey, which assesses the shopping behaviour, habits and expectations of more than 22,000 consumers in 27 countries, found that 21 per cent of respondents in China already owned AI-enabled devices, such as the automated personal assistants that come in the form of smart speakers.

Across all markets surveyed, early adopters of AI devices tend to be men, aged 18-34, according to PwC.

“AI is moving very rapidly into the consumer and retail sectors,” John Maxwell, the global consumer markets leader at PwC, said in a statement. “Within two to three years, AI could revolutionise how companies profile, segment and serve customers.”

The survey results also appear to bolster how Chinese consumers, who have taken to e-commerce in increasing numbers each year, are keen to adopt the latest innovation for the home amid the country’s efforts in AI.

The Chinese government has made AI a top priority, pledging to build a US$150 billion industry by 2030. Beijing has also recruited the country’s biggest technology companies – including Baidu, Alibaba Group Holding and Tencent Holdings – to join a so-called national team to push the domestic AI industry forward.

In January this year, Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent-backed JD.com took the wraps off their latest smart speakers in Las Vegas at the CES trade show, the world’s biggest annual consumer technology event.

Smart speakers are often advertised as voice-activated virtual assistants for the home that can help users hail a ride, order pizza, provide weather updates and even order a gift online.

For the major Chinese internet companies, smart speakers not only help gather data for things like user preferences and speech patterns, it also ensures that users stay within their ecosystem of services – especially useful to e-commerce service providers like JD.com and Alibaba, which owns the South China Morning Post. Continue Reading

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