At the end of August this year, Amazon and Microsoft entered into alliance to surprise the world information technology (IT) industry. They announced a plan to link Amazon's speech recognition-based AI assistant Alexa with Microsoft's Cortana. Amazon devoid of services such as e-mail and schedule management complements such weaknesses by partnering with MS and MS is aiming to provide e-commerce service of Amazon.
After the end of the year when interoperation begins, Amazon AI speaker "Echo" users will be able to run MS app Cortana by saying "Alexa, start Cortana" and on the contrary, MS Windows 10 users will be able to put products into their carts by saying "Cortana, run Alexa". The partnership between two rival services was unusual, turning heads and was called “the Seattle Alliance” as the two companies are headquartered in Seattle.
Local rival AI assistant services also banded together for the first time in Korea. Samsung Electronics and Kakao announced on September 14 that they will connect AI secretaries “Bixby” and “Kakaoi” and cooperate in the AI sector. The two companies will collaborate in various fields such as home appliances, wearable devices, and the internet of things (IoT), and show the results starting in the second half of this year.
As the partnership is still young, nobody knows what they will come up with, but the partnership will be similar to the Seattle Alliance. Their new services are expected to be sending a Kakao Talk message or find directions on the Kakao map through Bixby and control Samsung Electronics home appliances by giving orders to Kakao Mini Speaker loaded with Kakaoi. Given that Kakao signed a contract with Hyundai Motor, GS E&C, POSCO E&C and Kakaoi, it is possible to initiate the Bixby directly in a car or at home. "Synergies will be created as Kakao has abundant contents and Samsung has a strength in hardware," Kakao said.
Until last year, the domestic AI assistant service market had only two players -- SK Telecom’s Nugu and KT’s Giga Genie -– but the market has entered the era with many runners, all of which can be the final winner as Samsung Electronics, Naver (Clover), Kakao and Google (Google Assistant) joined the competition. There is not the clear frontrunner with a wide gap with followers yet. Thus, these companies are bent on increasing their users.
It is expected that there will be a spike in partnership among competitors. "It is important to secure as many users as possible because of a characteristic of artificial intelligence that the more users an AI service has, the smarter it can become," an IT industry official said. Therefore, they will make attempts to expand contact points with users by pruning product prices or ramping up partnership with external players."
In the meantime, while local Internet industry rivals Naver and Kakao are headed for a head-on collision by launching their AI speakers in the Korean market, the duel is developing into a fight between the two companies’ popular characters.
Naver is planning to launch Line Friend character versions of its AI speaker “Wave” in Korea this year. These products loaded with Naver's AI platform “Clover” will be modeled on popular characters such as “Brown” and “Sally.”
Kakao will also make the most of its characters for its AI speaker. Kakao's AI speaker “Kakao Mini” has simple appearances like Wave. “Kakao Friend” cute character dolls were used in Kakao Mini and Kakao Mini has been well received by customers thanks to the character dolls. These dolls are offered as a privilege to pre-order buyers, who can select either “Lion” or “Eo Peach.”
The reason why the two leading Internet companies put their characters front and center for the promotion of their AI speakers is that the AI speaker market is at the toddler stage and their friendly approaches to people at a time when AI speaker is still a stranger to most customers.
Samsung, LG Expanding AI Ecosystem for Home Appliances
"We have been collaborating with Harman since its acquisition,” Koh Dong-Jin, president of mobile communication at Samsung Electronics said on Korean Media Day for the Galaxy Note 8 held at Seocho Office of Samsung Electronics on September 12.
A plan on the launch of Samsung's AI speaker was first mentioned during a press conference at the IFA 2017 press conference in Berlin, Germany earlier this month. "It is expected that a competitive AI speaker will be unwrapped next year under the leadership of Koh. I think that you may have much anticipation for the AI speaker,” said Yoon Boo-keun, president of the CE Business Division at Samsung Electronics who was at the press conference with president Koh. “I think it's going to be difficult to take the wrap off the AI speaker at the CES in Las Vegas in the US next January. Now that I am the CEO leading the AI speaker project so I have to do the work properly. The project will take some time to produce better results.”
The AI speaker is expected to be used not only for mobile interworking but also for home appliances of Samsung Electronics. "AI speakers will be included in all future consumer electronics products," said Doh Young-soo, a managing director of Samsung Electronics' home appliance division in a press conference with Korean reporters at the IFA 2017 in Berlin, Germany. "We are also working on researching voice recognition data technology based on cloud service."
In the meantime, LG Electronics took the wrap off a variety of products based on AI technology such as TVs, home appliances, and smartphones at the IFA 2017, Europe's largest consumer electronics exhibition held in Berlin, Germany. The 200-square-meter 'IoT Zone' also opened inside the exhibition booth.
LG Electronics will expand its products and services loaded with its own AI technology and strengthen partnership with global companies such as Amazon and Google. LG Electronics demonstrated control of home appliances such as TVs, refrigerators, washing machines, and air conditioners through Amazon Echo, a speaker based on Amazon's AI assistant, Alexa.
Google is also a partner of LG Electronics. LG Electronics first introduced Korean-language service 'Google Assistant' based on Google's voice recognition AI platform to the smartphone LG V30. In cooperation with Google, LG Electronics also added V30-specific commands. LG Electronics is supporting the Google assistant-interlocked service in seven household appliances.
LG’s self-developed speech recognition AI platform is still available. The AI platform is mainly loaded into products communicating in Korean such as a language-learning AI air conditioner launched in July, Airport Guide Robot tentatively operating at Incheon International Airport as well as AI speaker SmartThinQ Hub. LG Electronics also unveiled an AI home appliances equipped with Deep ThinkQ, a proprietary deep learning technology developed by LG Electronics.
LG Electronics' AI household appliances lineup currently includes a refrigerator that adjusts cooling intensity by detecting changes in internal temperature, an air conditioner that adjusts the airflow according to indoor air conditions and a washing machine which provides a recommended washing option depending on weather and a robot cleaner which distinguishes objects from people's feet.