Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba will invest RMB10bn (US$1.4bn) this year on building up its artificial intelligence and Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities that will be centred around its smart speaker Tmall Genie.

The investment aims to integrate more content and services from Alibaba’s diverse ecosystem – which range from entertainment to healthcare, education and online shopping – and forms part of the company’s strategy to push into new technologies and business sectors, the South China Morning Post reported.

Under the plan, consumers will be able to use the Alipay payments platform via Tmall Genie from July 1st onwards, and they also can watch Taobao Live, the live-streaming of merchant sales on the Taobao marketplace, through a Tmall Genie screen.

In addition, the investment will see more leading IoT technologies developed in-house, including IoT operating systems, edge computing, and visual and voice AI.

“By tapping into Alibaba’s diverse ecosystem and cutting-edge technology, we are committed to bringing in more unique experiences to our Tmall Genie users through enriched content and services,” said Ku Wei, the head of development at Tmall Genie.

According to the South China Morning Post, research firm IDC has forecast that smart speaker shipments in China are expected to grow 9.8% in 2020 despite a sharp drop in first-quarter sales caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

And Alibaba is not the only Chinese tech giant that has spotted the opportunities offered by the growing smart speaker market.

In a recent earnings call, Baidu CEO Yanhong Li noted a trend for mobile users to add smart devices in their homes “so that they have a hands-free, voice-enabled, connected device nearby while keeping their phones free for texting and other mobile-centric activities”.

Alibaba’s big bet on smart speakers comes as the Chinese government prepares to launch a vast investment package worth RMB10 trillion (US$1.4 trillion) over the next six years to reduce its dependence on foreign technology.

The ambitious plan, which is expected to be signed off by the National People’s Congress this week, involves huge spending on 5G wireless networks, AI software, automated factories and other technology to make China a world leader. It is not expected that US companies will benefit much from the initiative.

Sourced from South China Morning Post; additional content by WARC staff