The South Korea-based messaging and online calling app, Line, will introduce a voice assistant device for the home in Korea and Japan this summer. Techspot reports that Line plans to become “the dominant assistant service throughout Asia…They’re focusing on Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Thailand and Taiwan.” That is a good niche for the time being. Amazon and Google are focused right now on English and German-speaking countries with Spanish and French expected soon. Baidu and Huawei have targeted China. That leaves a short-term opening for the rest of East Asia.
Replicating the Google or the Alexa Strategy? Both.
Line will introduce three products initially: the Clova virtual assistant, the Wave smart speaker for the home and a mobile app. Clova will serve as the brains behind the assistant responsible for the natural language processing (NLP) and accessing information or applications to fulfill user requests. The company is also reportedly in talks with both Sony and LG to be integrated into their devices. Amazon has the Alexa assistant, the Echo home-based smart speaker and Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) for third party developers. Google has these and the Allo app for mobile phones that don’t have native access to Google Assistant. Line appears interested in covering all of these bases before Amazon or Google attempt to enter these markets.
More Evidence of Virtual Assistant Fragmentation
Clova is an English portmanteau that stands for “cloud virtual assistant.” A common thesis in the industry suggests that there is a rush to be the one virtual assistant that consumers rely upon as if this will be a winner-take-all market. VoiceLabs introduced a clever spin on that concept suggesting it was really a winner-take-household market. Amazon has a clear lead in that category today with over 90% marketshare. That is, a lead in the U.S., UK and Germany. Google went from zero to just under 10% in the U.S. in 2016 with the introduction of its first product, Google Home. However, the share of both companies in Asia is 0%. The market is wide open.
When it comes to the broader category of all voice activated assistants, the mobile device makers have the advantage, Apple and Google in particular. Siri and Google already have voice models for Japanese for example. Siri also speaks Chinese and Korean among its eight supported languages. Google Assistant recognizes English and Hindi and Google search can understand Chinese and many other languages. It appears that Amazon does not have these today. However, Line apparently can cover most of the East Asian languages in the countries where its messaging app is most popular. The clear conclusion is that virtual assistants are going to represent a fragmented market both within countries and across regions.