Baidu Sold 19 Million Smart Speakers in 2019 and Just Rolled Out Xiaodu II Smart Speaker with Infrared, a New Processor, and Better Performance

Baidu recently announced a new smart speaker with infrared features enabling it to connect with a wide variety of household appliances. More significantly, the Xiaodu Smart Speaker 2 Infrared Version, has a new embedded processor that the company says has significantly improved far-field voice interaction performance. These innovations are designed to help Baidu solidify the smart speaker market share lead the company established in 2019.

The Honghu Chip and Voice Recognition Performance

The Honghu embedded chip replaces earlier versions from Amlogic and it is optimized for far-field voice use cases. Baidu reports that the Honghu chip in the new Xiaodu smart speaker has specific performance improvements (all tests were within 2.5 meters):

  • 10% improvement in first activation rate in a noisy environment
  • 30% error reduction in voice recognition
  • 99% word recognition accuracy in a quiet environment
  • 95% sentence recognition accuracy in a quiet environment
  • 95% word recognition accuracy in a noisy environment – 25% higher than 1st-gen
  • 88% sentence recognition accuracy in a noisy environment – 26% higher than 1st-gen (The data is based on Baidu’s laboratory test results)

When you see relative voice performance improvements, the obvious question is compared to what baseline. These figures do not claim to be better than competing products, but instead, show progress over the earlier generation of smart speaker released in 2018. This type of performance improvement, however, is important because how well a smart speaker understands a user is consistently a top priority for consumers.

Infrared Bypasses Integration Barriers

The introduction of infrared communications is designed to more easily connect with a variety of household devices. Baidu claims this new feature allows the Xiaodu to communicate with more than 99% of infrared-enabled appliances. That would be just about any appliance with a remote control that uses infrared such as televisions, fans, air conditioners, and even some WiFi routers. There are so many household appliances that creating integrations can take years and then you also have to maintain those connections as new models are produced.

Infrared provides an easy workaround to enable basic commands to be sent from a smart speaker to an appliance without any direct integration. Amazon employed a similar strategy when it launched the Fire TV Cube which is a smart speaker designed to control home entertainment devices such as televisions and audio equipment. It’s a useful feature that can add to a smart speaker’s usefulness as a smart home control input device.

Most Popular Voice Use Cases are Video and Music

A Baidu representative also shared with Voicebot that video and music are the most popular use cases today. The company reports there are now 3,600 voice apps with iQiyi (video), QQ Music (music), and Kwai (short video) the three most popular titles. The prominence of music access aligns well with the U.S. and other western markets. Video is a different focus and likely reflects a higher adoption rate of smart displays in China.

Baidu Rising

Two years ago, Baidu was struggling to sell smart speakers in a very competitive Chinese market. It’s high-end Raven H smart speaker was not popular and reports suggest it sold no more than 10,000 units while rival Alibaba was reporting more than a million devices sold in a quarter. That situation changed with the introduction of the lower cost Xiaodu smart speaker in June 2018. Baidu reported that the device sold 10,000 units in 90 seconds. By Q3 2018, Strategy Analytics was reporting that Baidu had sold 1.9 million smart speakers in the quarter to capture about 32% of device market share in the period.

In Q4 2018, another 2.2 million Xiaodu smart speakers were sold and then 4.1 million in the first quarter of 2019. From that point on, Strategy Analytics estimates that Baidu actually took over the sales market share lead from Alibaba in every quarter finishing the year with 5.9 million units sold in Q4. Total sales for the year according to the research firm were 19 million and a 37% market share, followed by Alibaba with 17.4 million units.

Baidu’s DuerOS voice assistant platform isn’t limited to smart speakers. It is also embedded in over 400 million devices as of July 2019. The new smart speaker may help Baidu solidify its lead in China smart speaker sales but it’s important to note that the company has far broader coverage for its assistant in a wide range of devices from smartphones to household appliances and automobiles.

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