Ask the silver-haired residents of the elderly care community Yinheyuan in central Beijing what they know about artificial intelligence (AI), and they will probably throw the question to the smart speakers within their reach. These smart speakers, capable of interacting with users with voice-recognition technologies, are also part of the answer. Via voice command, senior residents can control lights, TVs and other home appliances, order food or ask for help. AI is no longer a technical term used exclusively by professionals in China. Both young and old are enjoying the benefits of the growing smart economy.
Europeans are embracing smart speakers from Google, Amazon and Apple despite concerns about the technology's potential to invade privacy in the home. The race is on to develop the smartest speaker of them all, with the Google Assistant-powered Google Home currently in the lead on understanding questions and giving the right answers, according to one IQ test. Apple's Siri-based HomePod is catching up with Google, while Amazon's Echo devices enjoy the largest marketshare worldwide, with the largest number of buyers coming from the US followed by China. But even in privacy-sensitive Europe, more people are now willing to bring smart speakers in the privacy of their own homes. According to analyst IDC, smart speaker sales exploded in Europe in the third quarter, growing 116.7 percent compared to last year -- even before Google and Amazon expand the availability of Echo and Home speakers to Italy and Spain.
You might not even be used to 4K, which – along with other new technologies like HDR – feels like it only just arrived and it is still expensive to buy the sets and difficult to find content to watch on them. But 4K is already old news, after Samsung revealed its first 8K TV meant for consumers – doubling the name, quadrupling the number of pixels on offer and heralding the future of screens. Samsung's newest television crams a full 33 million pixels into a vast display that it hopes becomes the ultimate way of watching the TV. Despite how it might sound, 8K is actually four times as many pixels as existing TVs, and offers what the company says is a significant improvement and innovation on that technology. But the 8K TV isn't only the consequence of wanting to cram in more pixels or to add bigger numbers to specifications.
Apple, Google, and Samsung all have smart speakers. Not to be left behind, fellow smartphone titan Huawei is playing catch up with another budget contender, following the reveal of its AI Cube (a speaker, 4G modem, WiFi router hybrid and Google Home clone, all rolled into one). The company teased the new gadget -- the Chinese name of which translates as "Huawei AI Speaker" -- at its Mate 20 series event in Shanghai, China, earlier today. As first impressions go, there's the glaringly obvious: this device looks like a HomePod doppelgänger, complete with a stout, cylindrical design with control buttons at the top. It also comes in black and white.
The annual trade show CES (Consumer Electronics Show) is a deluge of smart appliances, many of which do things totally unnecessary--case in point, the talking A.I.-powered toilet--but there are some products that legitimately excite the masses and prove to be of real-world use. A Beijing startup named Forward X is hoping its self-driving robot suitcase belongs in the latter camp. Having made its debut at the Las Vegas trade show to positive coverage, the Ovis is ready to hit the global market with a crowdfunding campaign that starts today. The company foresees most of its initial customers to be Americans, which explains why the marketing effort is mostly centered around its NorCal office. But a week ago, I got the chance to meet company founder Nicholas Chee for a demonstration in Hong Kong.
Smart speakers are all the rage in China and demand for smartphones shows no sign of slowing down in the region, according to GfK Asia. Latest sales figures released by the consumer market research firm show that 27 million smart speakers were shifted in November and 35 million in December in China last year. Powered by virtual assistants, voice-activated smart speakers in China include the Xiaomi Mi AI and Alibaba's Tmall Genie X1 (Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post). GfK reports that there are 34 products from 21 different brands in the country. Other global products include the Amazon Echo, Google Home and the Apple HomePod.
It might not have the star power of Alexa or Google Assistant, but DuerOS, Chinese web giant Baidu's AI platform, continues to pick up steam in its native country. It seems like Baidu is trying to curry favor with a more international audience, too -- it's here at CES to show off smart speakers that almost certainly won't wind up in the United States. The most sensible of the models on display was a cutesy, fabric-covered Echo Show lookalike called the Little Fish VSI, which wins our Best of CES 2018 award for Cutest, Least Descriptive Product Name.
The design is drawing attention: TechCrunch called it "the strangest smart speaker" and Quartz said the device stands out from the smart speaker crowd "for one reason." While it goes on sale in December, Baidu already has a deal to outfit the device in 100 InterContinental Beijing hotels rooms. But that's just the speaker. Baidu also introduced two robots, the Raven R and Raven Q (the latter of which is still in development). The Raven R looks like a cross between Pixar's Luxo Jr. logo and a contemporary art sculpture.
Xiaomi's Mi division, which sells some accessories in the US but still no phones, is getting into smart speakers. It just unveiled the Mi AI Speaker, its equivalent to Amazon's Alexa, Google Home and other personal assistant-type models. However, it play music and take voice commands for a lot less, costing just 299 RMB or around $45 when it hits shelves in China starting next month. It features "high-quality" sound and a six microphone array to detect voice commands from any direction and distance like its rivals. More importantly, it has artificial intelligence built-in, so you can order it to play streaming music and act as a personal assistant, giving you weather, calendar reminders, news and so on.