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Smart speakers make Japan debuts

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Google’s smart speakers are shown at a launch event in Minato Ward, Tokyo, last week. The Yomiuri Shimbun

Smart speakers make Japan debuts

News Desk

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) - Competition among manufacturers of voice-controlled speakers with integrated artificial intelligence software has intensified as the Japanese arm of U.S. tech giant Google Inc. announced the launch of its smart speaker last week.

Line Corp., best known for its free messaging app, officially launched its enhanced smart speaker, or home assistant, on the same day.

Voice-controlled smart speakers could dramatically change our daily lives, replacing many of the actions typically done manually with smartphones and remote controls.

“Show me tomorrow’s schedule.”

“You have five events. First is a regular meeting at 10 a.m.”

At a launch event in Tokyo on Thursday, Google demonstrated how to interact with its Google Home smart speaker. “Japanese families will enjoy a more convenient life,” a Google official said.

Line, which released a beta version of its smart speaker in August, held an official launch event on Thursday in Tokyo. The company announced that it has added new functions to its home assistant device, such as reading out Line messages sent between family members. “We have the best understanding of Japanese users,” said Jun Masuda, chief strategy and marketing officer of the company. The comment hinted at how Line hopes to distinguish its product from Google’s.

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Smart speakers make Japan debuts. The Japan News

Amazon.com, Inc. unveiled a plan on Oct. 2 to release its smart speaker — the most popular in the United States — in Japan before the end of this year. Sony Corp. also plans to launch a smart speaker that uses Google’s AI system within the year.

Expectations that smart speakers will replace many smartphone functions might be the reason for this sudden surge of releases by major Japanese and U.S. companies. Whoever manages to dominate the market can expect to increase the number of people who use their services.

The forerunner in the market was Amazon, which launched the Echo smart speaker in the United States in 2014. Echo users have access to more than 25,000 services, such as taxi-hailing and pizza delivery, as well as online shopping. The product has received positive reviews for its convenience. One user from the United States who manages a software development firm said he obtains most information about weather and sports from the smart speaker. It is very convenient for controlling his TV and lighting without having to touch devices, he added.

The tug-of-war in the smart speaker market will also impact the tussle over the global standardization of voice-controlled technology.

Through data collected via smart speakers, companies will be able to learn more about the kinds of services users want. The technology will also improve as more people use voice-controlled devices, because the AI software will become smarter by learning more about how we communicate. Voice-controlled smart devices are expected to eventually be able to engage in natural conversations. The improved convenience will increase their competitiveness.

If a company manages to establish a lead in the field of voice-controlled AI systems, it will be able to dominate not only home assistants but also in broader fields, such as automobiles and robots.

“[With smart speakers,] users can do a lot of things simply by giving voice commands. In this sense, voice-controlled technology has huge potential. The key is whether companies can offer convenient services unique to the technology,” Hitoshi Sato, researcher at InfoCom Research Inc., said.

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