Gadgets for humans

China now has an Amazon Echo-like device called the ‘LingLong DingDong’

Some analysts expect the Chinese smart home market to be a $22 billion a year business by as soon as 2018. With growth like that, it’d be a clear win for companies like Google and Amazon, who’d love to get their digital assistant-equipped smart speakers into the hands of (potentially) over a billion Chinese people.Unfortunately, the DingDong beat them to it.

The DingDong, made by LingLong (this is all very fun to say) costs just $118 and provides answers, plays music and audiobooks, and manages schedules much like Amazon’s Echo. It’s operated largely the same way, to boot. To wake the device, one of three commands will work: DingDong DingDong, Xiaowei Xiaowei, or BaiLing BaiLing. Once awake, it’s capable of doing much of what the Echo does, only it’s currently clearly lacking in developer support. So far, LingLong reports, customers are primarily using it to play music from a library of about three million songs.

Although the Echo arrived in 2014, LingLong engineers were already working on the device — it’s not a knockoff, or a copy of Amazon’s design, although senior marketing manager Charlie Liu did say Amazon’s launch influenced some of their decision-making.

The Echo though, doesn’t understand Chinese. The DingDong is capable of understanding both Cantonese and Mandarin, but not in the same unit. Due to the language engine’s complexity, it can’t include both in one device.

Calling it limited, for the time being, would be fair. Over time though, LingLong hopes to entice third-party developers to tap into its power and create something far more Echo-like.

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Published November 24, 2016 — 01:16 UTC