Tencent’s WeChat is like the Chinese equivalent of WhatsApp + Facebook. Each day hundreds of millions of users press the WeChat Hold to Talk button to send voice messages.
Now Tencent wants to free up its users’ hands. The Chinese Internet giant today officially launched its first-ever smart speaker, Tencent Tingting (腾讯听听), which can access users’ WeChat accounts and send or receive voice messages. Moreover, Tencent Tingting can automatically convert text messages to voice format and read them out to you.
The speaker has a Mandarin interface, and is specially designed to accommodate the elderly and children, who either have no phone or find it difficult to use one. The company says it has tailored Tingting’s speech recognition algorithms to better recognize the particularities of speech in these age demographics.
Many Chinese households have three generations living under the same roof. Tingting aims to create a family-friendly communication environment where grandparents won’t have to put on their reading glasses if they get a text and toddlers can easily talk with their parents remotely. Tingting users need not have a WeChat account.
“When my grandpa was speaking to Tingting, I didn’t even know what he said, but the speaker understood,” says Tencent Tingting Chief Products Officer Chaoqin Wang. “When the speaker replied to him, he said ‘Oh, not bad. It’s amazing’. I could feel that the old man was very pleased that he was understood by a modern Internet product.”
The sleek and cylindrical Tingting comes in black or lime. It has an amusing wake-up word, “9420” (Jiu Si Er Ling), which sounds like “I just love you” in Mandarin. A self-adaptive tuning function can adjust volume based on environment.
Tencent boasts that Tingting outperforms its competition in acoustic quality. Music Critic Lihua Su appreciated the full sound, which he said didn’t come from a “point,” but rather an “area.” “The unique speaker design makes anywhere in a room a ‘sweet spot’,” he told Synced.
Tingting features an unplugged design with lithium batteries that can power it for up to 16 hours, five hours in WIFI mode, or six hours in Bluetooth mode. This was a bold choice by Tencent, as integrating batteries with smart speakers raises many technical challenges, including how to compress the algorithms to lower power consumption.
The speaker’s content library is stuffed with more than 20 million original songs, one million audio stories for children, and one hundred million hours of other audio content. “For a speaker, content is at the core of customer needs,” says Wang.
Tencent’s announcement signals the company’s entry into China’s heated smart speaker market, where Baidu’s Raven H, Alibaba’s Tmall Genie and hundreds of competitors are all vying for the vanguard.
Tingting is sold on JD.com at ¥699(US$100), which is slightly more expensive than competitors like Xiaomi’s Mi AI speaker Mi at CN¥299 (US$45), and Tmall Genie at CN¥499 (US$80). Genie even went on sale at the rock-bottom price of CN¥99 (US$15) during China’s November 11 “Singles Day” online shopping spree.
Tencent bills Tingting as a powerful smart assistant with compelling features and superior performance, and it looks and sounds the part. Although Tencent hasn’t yet built much of a reputation in the hardware market, insiders suggest the company views smart speakers as a serious long-term business, and there will be more Tencent smart speakers coming up.
Synced is covering the story and will update readers on Tingting’s performance in the market.
Journalist: Tony Peng | Editor: Michael Sarazen