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Alibaba Invests RMB10 Billion to Expand Tmall Genie Ecosystem

Alibaba Group will invest RMB10 billion ($1.4 billion) this year to strengthen its artificial intelligence of things ecosystem surrounding its flagship smart speaker, Tmall Genie, the company said during a Wednesday press event.

The investment will fund the research and development of proprietary AIoT technologies – which combines artificial intelligence and the internet of things – across the company’s units such as Alibaba Cloud and DAMO Academy. It will also advance research into IoT operating systems, edge computing and AI technologies such as natural language processing. These technologies will help elevate the Tmall Genie user experience by enabling more-personalized and natural voice and visual interactions, Alibaba said.

“By tapping into Alibaba’s diverse ecosystem and cutting-edge technology, we are committed to bringing in more unique experiences to our Tmall Genie users,” said Ku Wei, who heads the development of the smart speaker.

Launched in 2017, the smart speaker can connect with over 270 million devices from 1,100 brands in China to date, per Ku. He said his team would share the latest AIoT technologies, go-to-market insights and capabilities across product design and content with partners to co-develop even more compatible products, including intelligent refrigerators, robotic vacuum cleaners and tech-enabled sportswear.

Under the initiative, Tmall Genie will also integrate more content and services across Alibaba’s platforms, spanning entertainment, education, healthcare and online shopping. Starting July 1, the smart speaker will support integration with mini-apps on the Alipay e-wallet. Users who own a Tmall Genie model with built-in monitors can also directly access and watch programs from Taobao Live, Alibaba’s dedicated livestreaming channel.

During the event, Tmall Genie debuted its newest model featuring a large 10-inch screen. Priced at RMB549, the Tmall Genie CC10 supports a wide selection of video content, including live concerts, online classes and Taobao Live broadcasts.

Separately, Tmall Genie also announced its collaboration with fast-food chain KFC to co-design a smart speaker bearing the image of the franchise’s famed founder, Colonel Harland Sanders. This partnership follows the release of a series of branded devices, including the Starbucks-themed Tmall Genie. Consumers will be able to use the Tmall Genie, set for release in the second half of this year, to order KFC breakfast items from over 5,000 locations across China. Users can use a voice-payment feature to complete transactions, then pick their orders up at the nearest KFC store.

Per market-intelligence firm IDC, Tmall Genie has been the top-selling smart speaker in China for three consecutive years from 2017 to 2019. In the first quarter of 2020, it continued to rank first in the market in terms of shopping volume, representing a market share of over 35%.

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