AI speakers enjoy growing popularity in South Korea

The artificial intelligence (AI) speaker industry is rapidly growing here, with local tech players launching their own hardware equipped with localized functions.

Amazon opened the industry in 2015 with a view to collecting more datasets from customers and developing new platforms to expand its presence as the world’s leading state-of-the-art retail service operator.

The move is also in line with the growing importance of securing massive datasets as a key building block for the success of any tech players here and abroad. Google, which boasts billions of users across the globe, also joined the bandwagon in 2016.

Korea is a latecomer in the big data- and software-driven market because of the nation’s hardware-oriented industry structure.

The AI speaker market has for this reason began to gain the spotlight from the public only late last year when a local mobile carrier launched the nation’s first voice assistant, Nugu.

At first, major functions of the device looked identical to its counterparts from the U.S. -based platform giants.

But the company has begun to shape its identity as a localized AI speaker by adding the platform into the firm’s navigation app, T-Map. This allowed users to voice-control navigation while driving. The nation’s largest mobile carrier operates a variety of mobile-oriented services, and it has sought to find ways to combine the brain of Nugu into other services. T-Map, the nation’s top navigation app with more than 10 million users, was the first step for the company to expand its AI ecosystem here.

“One of its key features is that drivers can easily search for destinations as well as ask for other driving-related information to the app via voice,” a company official said. “For instance, users can simply talk to the app to find the nearest or cheapest gas station. This significantly reduces their potential risk on the road, compared to the time when they had to touch screens to change travel destination or find information about gas stations in real-time on the road.”

This is the first time in the world that a company has equipped the AI assistant into a navigation platform.

KT, the nation’s dominant fixed-line operator, has focused on differentiating itself from overseas AI leaders by launching its GiGA Genie AI home assistant. The device is a combination of a set-top box and speaker.

“Upon launching the device, we have drawn on a long-term blueprint to make Genie the home hub to connect not just hardware – such as TVs – but other customer-oriented services including banking,” a KT spokeswoman said.

“In particular, Genie is the world’s first AI assistant that can control internet protocol televisions,” said the official. “On top of that, it can operate a series of banking services under voice control. These include sending and receiving money and checking banking accounts.”

Kakao, which operates the nation’s dominant mobile messenger app Kakao Talk, has also joined the AI drive by launching its AI speaker, Kakao Mini, earlier this month.

It has particularly drawn keen interest from customers, with all of the first 15,000 devices going out of stock in nine minutes.

“Kakao Mini is interlinked with Kakao Talk. Users can send and receive Kakao Talk messages by talking to the speaker,” said a Kakao official.

“We are prepared to link the AI assistant with other services – such as banking and ride-hailing – in the near future.”

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