AI start up Mobvoi eyes bigger role in smart speaker industry

By Ma Si | | Updated: 2017-12-03 16:27

AI start up Mobvoi eyes bigger role in smart speaker industry

Li Zhifei, founder and CEO of Mobvoi, unveiled the smart speaker TicHome Mini in Beijing on Nov, 27, 2017. [Photo provided to]

Mobvoi Inc, a Chinese artificial intelligence startup backed by Google Inc, is eyeing to gain a bigger presence in the increasingly crowded smart speaker industry, as it unveiled an alternative in China to lure users who look for quality products at affordable prices.

TicHome Mini, as the new device is called, comes with a voice-activated digital assistant that can respond to voice commands, such as streaming music and newscasts. But what separates it from rival products is its portability.

The gadget, which looks like a stout hockey puck, stands just 4.3 centimeter tall, and weighs 276 grams. It can be easily moved from room to room, an edge that other players fail to deliver.

Mobvoi said that despite the smaller size, the TicHome Mini performs well in picking up voices and delivers good speaker quality. Equipped with a 2,600mAh battery, it can last for six hours between charges.

Li Zhifei, founder and CEO of the five-year-old company, said devices are getting better at processing voice commands from across different rooms and against background noise.

"Smart speak is one of the hottest hardware battlefields in China as tech players scramble to vie for an early lead in the next frontier of growth and innovation," Li said.

Alibaba Group Holding and Baidu Inc unveiled their versions of smart speakers earlier this year, which are modeled on's Echo and Google's Home.

Tencent Holdings, China's social networking and gaming titan, is also developing its own voice-based speaker for launch within months.

"But unlike mobile applications sectors where a price war will squeeze out many startups, the smart speaker industry will always have room for players with core technologies," Li said.

According to Li, consumers are more sensitive to differences regarding hardware design and quality, which makes it almost impossible for a hardware company to monopolize the whole industry and offers a good opportunity for startups to find niches to grow.

Priced at 499 yuan ($75) in China, TicHome Mini comes with a IPX6 waterproofing design, which will protect its interior when it is taken into the shower, the company said.

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