If you’re deciding between the Amazon Echo and the Google Home, there’s a new contender: the DingDong, from Chinese manufacturer LingLong.
Its latest digital home assistant model, the A3, looks pretty similar to the Echo — it’s a cylindrical speaker that will respond to users asking for information such as the weather or their schedule.
It can play music, or help you take notes and control your home appliances — pretty much whatever internet-connected system it can talk to.
And in typical Chinese fashion, it’s priced very competitively at 698 yuan ($100), while adding new features like portability — it’s able to play up to eight hours of music on the go.
If you haven’t heard of it yet, it’s because the company hasn’t aggressively marketed its products outside of China. So here’s what you need to know.
There are many DingDongs
The DingDong A3 is just one of a set of intelligent speakers that LingLong makes.
LingLong is a 150 million yuan ($22 million) joint venture between speech technology firm Iflytek and Jingdong, which runs China’s second-largest online store, JD.com. The joint entity was set up in March 2015 specifically to develop smart home gadgets.
This latest A3 speaker follows a slightly more expensive metal version, the A1, that was launched half a year ago, priced at 798 yuan ($115). It doesn’t appear to be portable, however.
And if you’re budget-conscious, there are cheaper smaller versions that you can take on the go, but don’t sound as good.
The DingDong Q1 range resemble typical portable Bluetooth speakers, are able to take voice instructions just like its bigger brothers, and only costs 199 yuan ($28).
And since JD.com competes with China’s largest online retailer, Alibaba, you’ll need to head to JD.com to buy a DingDong, not Alibaba’s Taobao, Tmall or AliExpress.
It’s a funny name, but it’s not meant to be
While the LingLong DingDong sounds like a racist ’20s Hollywood Asian character, its name is pretty meaningful.
The company’s name, “Ling Long” (玲珑), means exquisite in Chinese.
“Ding Dong” (叮咚) is Chinese onomatopoeia for a chime — what you’ll hear when the intelligent speakers prompt you or process your questions.
And perhaps the company didn’t take into account the name sounding humorous to English speakers, because it’s been so focused on China.
Given that the Amazon Echo’s assistant, Alexa, doesn’t speak Chinese, and Google’s platform is geographically blocked in China (limiting how well the Home would work), LingLong comes to a market that is fairly unpenetrated, yet has demand for the latest consumer technology available.
With Jingdong’s backing, and a specific focus on developing the software to understand different Chinese dialects and accents, the DingDong speakers are far better poised than Western competitors at tackling China’s huge potential.