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June 15, 2017

These smart home speakers will kill Alexa and Google Home with cuteness

by John_A

Why it matters to you

More competition for Amazon, Google, and Apple means varied designs, more features, and potentially lower prices in the smart home speaker market.

Messaging app Line is working on a range of smart speakers to take on Amazon’s Echo range, Google Home, and Apple’s newly announced HomePod. It has more than one version in the works, and all incorporate its Clova artificial intelligence platform. The Wave will arrive first, and will be followed by the Champ, which promises to beat all the challengers when it comes to cuteness.

Modeled on popular Line characters Brown the bear and Sally the chick (Cony the rabbit is sadly absent from the initial press pictures), the Champ speaker is referred to as a, “more casual and more portable version,” of the Wave speaker. The features are likely to be shared between them, and will unsurprisingly provide immediate access to the Line Music streaming service, providing both search features for a song or artist, plus a recommendation system based on mood and environment.

Line Wave

Like other smart speakers, the Wave and Champ can be controlled by voice, providing information on calendar appointments, weather, to-do lists, and more. It’s not known which services Line will integrate yet. Additionally, the speaker will be able to control smart home devices, and apparently learn remote codes to operate those not connected to the internet. Interestingly, you’ll be able to control Line chats through the speaker, and have, “casual conversations,” with Clova too. Line is also working on a a concept Clova product called Face, which incorporates a display.

Line Face

Line isn’t limiting Clova to its own products either. Sony is first on the list to potentially include the AI technology in the company’s smart products, which have already been revealed as concepts without Clova. Yamaha will cooperate with Line to use Clova’s AI brains in its Vocaloid voice synthesis platform, while Toyota and FamilyMart stores will also work on bringing Clova to apps and services.

These partnerships are forward-looking, but the Wave speaker will arrive before then, with the full release expected in the fall. Line will release a music-only version without the Clova smart features in the summer, which will receive a software update later in the year. The price will be 15,000 yen ($136) for the full version, and 10,000 ($91) for the music-only model due in the summer. The cute Champ versions will follow in the winter, with prices to be announced.

Line operates globally, but is most popular in Japan, so expect the Clova-powered speakers not to speak English immediately.

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