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Google, Line primed for smart speaker race in Japan

Interactivity, breadth of services crucial to gaining popularity

Google Home smart speakers were among the products unveiled by the U.S. tech giant. (Photo courtesy of Google)   © Kyodo

TOKYO -- Smart speakers are starting to make their way into the Japanese market, with providers touting unique features and services supported by artificial intelligence.

U.S. tech giant Google is releasing its Google Home speaker Friday. The device, priced at 14,000 yen ($124) before tax, responds to prompts in Japanese and tells the weather forecast and schedule on the calendar, for instance.

It also delivers a Nikkei group service in which newscasters read select articles. The speaker can be linked to the Netflix video streaming services and automatic cleaning robot Roomba, among other things.

Google Home identifies the user through voice recognition. This would prevent information managed by individuals from being shared with others, making the device suitable for use by an entire family.

The release of the Google Home speaker in Japan comes a day after mobile chat application provider Line rolled out a full-spec version of its Clova Wave speaker for 14,000 yen including taxes. The company had released in August a trial version with limited features. The full feature version reads out chat messages from family and turns spoken words into text to be sent out.

Line announced the Clova Wave smart speaker, which works in sync with the company's mobile chat app.

Seattle-based Amazon.com and Sony are also planning to release smart speakers of their own by the end of this year.

The online shopping feature of Amazon's speaker, supported by the Alexa AI engine, has caught on in the U.S.

Convenience-improving services are expected to be a key factor in competition. Specialized services, like Line chat features, could also bring an edge. "Synchronization with Line is something only we can do," said Jun Masuda, Line's chief strategy and marketing officer.

The smart speakers are priced relatively low because providers expect to sell various related services through the device. When speakers get smarter, their presence as a gateway of information may strengthen.

(Nikkei)

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