Russian Tech Giant Mail.Ru Debuts Capsule Smart Speaker

Russian internet services company Mail.Ru has launched its first smart speaker, called Capsule. The smart speaker, which is frequently referred to as a ‘smart column,’ integrates Mail.Ru’s Marusya voice assistant that started beta testing last year.

Capsule and Marusya

The smart speaker went on pre-sale back in January before it started shipping in April. Mail.Ru has reported that there were thousands of pre-orders. The smart speaker looks cut from the same cloth as the Amazon Echo or Google Home. The gray, rounded column uses a ring of light to indicate when it is on. The Marusya voice assistant powers all of the smart speaker’s features, including many familiar to Amazon, Google, or Apple smart speaker owners. Marusya can play games, answer questions looked up online, and share the weather forecast. Marusya offers iOS and Android apps to connect the device with smartphones.

The smart speaker can also make calls digitally as long as both ends of the call are registered with Russian social media giant VKontakte. Notably, the Capsule works with plastic RFID cards designed for use by children who can’t make a request of the voice assistant. The cards, purchasable separately, include educational lessons and games that the child can play with the device when they hold up the relevant card to the speaker.

Russian Competition

Capsule is joining an increasingly competitive Russian smart speaker space. Yandex and its Alice voice assistant, as well as Tinkoff and voice assistant Oleg, are both vying for the Russian smart speaker market of more than 45 million monthly users. Many of the features overlap For instance, Marusya comes with an AI-powered music recommendation system to pick out tracks based on user preference. That’s quite similar to Alice’s new ability to curate and comment on songs on the Yandex Music streaming service. Yandex Music has more than 3.3 million premium subscribers, so Marusya has some catching up to do there.

The RFID card system Capsule uses stands out as a unique feature, but the real competitive area may be in price. The Capsule is priced at 7,990 rubles, about $110, compared to Yandex’s Yandex.Station smart speaker, which costs about 3,000 more rubles or $150 all told. The Capsule also comes with a free three-month subscription to Vkontakte’s music service. Mail.Ru is a true juggernaut in the Russian economy, though, meaning it can afford to sink as much money in research, marketing, and sales for its device and voice assistant as it chooses. Alice may have a reported 30 million monthly users because of mobile phone usage, but Russia’s voice assistant and smart speaker landscape is far from settled.


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