Amazon to join rivals in Japan’s emerging AI speaker market


Looking to rev up the artificial intelligence speaker trend, Amazon.com Inc. said Wednesday its smart speakers will debut in Japan starting next week.

Amazon is dominant in the sector overseas, and its entry into the Japan market is expected to further fuel competition.

The e-commerce giant said it will offer three Echo speaker models — Echo, Echo Plus and Echo Dot — priced at ¥11,980, ¥17,980 and ¥5,980, respectively.

The voice-controlled devices are equipped with Alexa, Amazon’s AI voice agent.

“We are extremely excited to bring Echo and Alexa to Japan,” said Tom Taylor, an Amazon senior vice president who overseas Alexa. “We’ve put a lot of time and effort into making sure we had a great experience with the Japanese voice, Japanese personality and Japanese knowledge.”

Amazon said it has spent more than a year developing the Japanese version of Alexa, touting its high quality, pointing to the natural-sounding digital voice.

Taylor said Alexa can answer questions on topics ranging from sumo to Japanese holidays — and the voice agent can event tell jokes.

Alexa already comes with 265 “skills” — functions developed by third parties much like apps made for smartphones. They include reading news and booking taxis. Amazon said it has opened up software tools for engineers to come up with more original add-ons.

Also on Wednesday, the firm launched a subscription-based unlimited music service. For ¥980 per month (or ¥780 for Prime members), users can listen to more than 40 million titles. Those who buy Echo devices can save even more, with the price falling ¥380 per month.

In 2014, Amazon launched its AI speaker way ahead of rivals like Google and Apple, which are now trying to catch up. The sector in Japan has been in the limelight of late, with Line Corp. and Google launching their offerings last month.

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