Alibaba Debuts a Smart Home Speaker Similar to Amazon’s Echo

Chinese tech companies are hoping to corner that country's potentially massive market for voice-controlled smart home assistants before U.S. rivals like Amazon enter the picture.

With that in mind, on Wednesday, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba officially debuted its Tianmao JinglingX1 (which is Mandarin for "Tmall Genie"), a device that is very similar to the Amazon Echo or Google Home smart speakers. The new device from Alibaba only communicates in Mandarin and is only available in China—two distinctions that set it apart from Amazon's device.

However, the products perform several similar functions, with Alibaba's voice-activated personal assistant also offering voice-control over other connected smart home devices as well as on-demand weather, news updates, and streaming music. The Tmall Genie can also order products from Alibaba's Tmall online shopping site. Users can activate the device by saying "Tianmao Jingling" in much the same way that Amazon Echo users address their device as "Alexa," or Google Home users say something along the lines of "OK, Google."

Alibaba's debut of the new device comes less than a week after a handful of publications reported that the company run by Chinese billionaire Jack Ma was planning to launch a rival to Amazon's and Google's smart home devices.

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Alibaba is only the latest Chinese company to introduce a smart voice assistant, with rivals like Chinese search-engine company Baidu and smaller e-commerce company JD.com previously rolling out similar devices. While those companies will now be competing for control of the Chinese market with respect to voice-controlled smart devices, they could also eventually face off against U.S. tech giants offering similar products in that country.

As Fortune noted over the weekend, Amazon does not currently offer Chinese-language support for its Echo device, which has only added support for U.K. English and German since launching in 2015. Amazon is reportedly targeting a launch in India for the Echo next, with a Chinese launch likely further off. That could also be the case for Google Home (as well as Apple's expected Siri-powered smart hub for its HomeKit system), as U.S. companies may be less enthusiastic about entering a Chinese market that is increasingly full of voice-controlled smart devices from well-established local players.

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