Japan’s smart speaker market heats up as Line faces off against Google and Amazon


The battle for smart-speaker supremacy in Japan has begun, with major firms announcing the launches Thursday of new products armed with high-tech voice-controlled features.

With the aim of taking the lead in the AI powered smart-speaker market, which many observers believe will become the next major trend, Line Corp. and Google both debuted their new products for the Japanese market the same day.

“The smartphone era began 10 years ago, but we are about to enter a new era where everything will be connected to the internet and optimized by AI,” said Jun Masuda, chief strategy and marketing officer at Line, during a news conference Thursday at the firm’s headquarters in Tokyo.

Line said its Clova Wave speaker is now available online for ¥14,000.

Masuda said the critical aspect of the coming era will be gadgets equipped with AI voice agents allowing voice control.

Tech firms have been gearing up to develop AI smart-speaker platforms, which are expected to create a new secondary market similar to how smartphones created a huge market for apps.

Line, whose AI system is called Clova, stressed that its speaker, which is 20-cm-tall and weights 998 grams, can work with Line’s other services. For instance, the Clova Wave can play music from the tens of millions of selections on Line Music, a subscription-based music streaming service. Users can also ask the device to send and read Line messages.

Masuda said Line is already talking to other firms about developing voice-based services.

Although Line dominates the messaging app market in Japan, it is expected to face tough competition in the smart-speaker sector.

On Thursday, Google also announced the launch of a similar product in Japan.

The firm said Google Home, a 14-cm-tall conical-shaped speaker, will hit the market on Friday for ¥14,000. Google has partnered with domestic news outlets, music distributors and others to provide secondary services.

It also said the Google Home Mini, a smaller speaker, will be available for ¥6,000.

The search engine behemoth has been selling the Google Home in other countries since 2016. Google has also already introduced an AI virtual assistant service with Android smartphones in Japan.

The launches of the newest smart speakers come the same week Amazon said that it would be joining the fray. The internet retailer, which has the biggest share of the U.S. AI-speaker market, said its Echo speaker series will debut in Japan by the end of this year.

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