Why ByteDance, Tencent and Alibaba race to make smart lamps?

Image credit: Guidance Education

In China, a large number of parents have struggled to balance their work and personal lives, and engage better with their kids, spurring a slew of providers into the education hardware space over these years.

Within the past half a year, three tech behemoths in China — ByteDance, Tencent, and Alibaba — have invested more in the education category by launching smart desk lamps with similar functions for school-going children. More players will join the competition to make smart lamps and other hardware products, as the race for customer acquisition becomes steeper for edtech players.

ByteDance

ByteDance, the TikTok owner, unveiled a smart light lamp in October, as a part of its education technology portfolio.

Dali smart lamp

According to its press release, the $119 Dali smart lamp aims to provide homework assistance for children aged from 4 to12, and also help parents to better tutor kids.

The AI-powered device helps with homework, including vocabulary and math problems, with a smartphone-sized screen, dual cameras, and a built-in digital assistant.

Parents can check real-time updates on their child’s homework via a companion app called Dali Loves Tutoring. The dual cameras mounted on the front and the top also allow parents to see their child’s face and tutor their kids on homework while video chatting, according to the product introduction.

Yang Luyu, head of Dali Education intelligent business, said the desk lamp is also able to provide automatically generated data analytics reports.

Parents snapped up 10,000 units within the first month since launch, encouraging others to follow suit.

As a fast-growing Chinese internet technology giant operating a range of apps including Toutiao, Douyin, and TikTok, the international counterpart to Douyin, ByteDance has expanded into education beyond social video for several years, with Dali Education brand and Dali smart lamp parts of its push into the category.

The company today runs a range of education services, including GoGoKid, which teaches English for kids, and Qingbei, which provides tutorials and subject counseling for elementary school students and junior high school students. Other products include Guagua Long, an AI-based English tutoring app, and Open Language, which provides English learning services for adults.

Tencent

Four months after ByteDance launched Dali smart lamp as its first gadget, Tencent also introduced its own smart lamp co-developed by Tencent and DMAI, an early-stage startup committed to developing Artificial Intelligence technologies for education.

AILA smart lamp

Similar to ByteDance’s lamp, the AILA smart lamp has a display, camera, and built-in digital assistant, and targets students 4 to 12 years old to help with their homework. It is priced at $230, higher than the $119 Dali smart lamp.

Via a built-in app, the AILA smart lamp mainly provides AI-powered tutoring services for both children and parents. The news release stressed the lamp’s function to lighten parents’ load on homework tutoring.

For privacy concerns, “users can turn off the camera, and hacker attacks could be prevented based on Tencent’s security technology,” said Li Xuechao, Vice President of Tencent Education.

“Amid Internet Plus Education trend, intelligent education hardware has become a useful tool to integrate information technologies with education industry. It is also a frontier to enter the smart education realm,” he said. “As a part of education infrastructure, these hardware products are indispensable to the smart education ecology which combines content, software, and hardware together.”

Besides the smart light, Tencent Education also partnered with HP to launch the “HP Smart Education Laptop” and cooperated with Intel to launch the “MagicPie smart homework system”.

According to Tencent Education, taking the launched smart education hardware as a hub, more education products will be developed by cooperating with software and hardware vendors, channel providers, and content providers.

Alibaba

Alibaba Cloud announced in March a partnership with Guidance Education, a Shaanxi, China-based education information platform, on developing a smart homework lamp for children aged from 6 to 15, marking the e-commerce giant’s entrant into the space following ByteDance and Tencent.

The Daoxue smart lamp is said to be supported by Alibaba DAMO Academy and will integrate its in-house OCR technology and smart speaker Tmall Genie. The lamp will be a part of their education portfolio, said Alibaba Cloud spokesman. But it would not be seen as a product completely owned by Alibaba Cloud.

Similar to its rivals, Alibaba’s product also focuses on homework tutoring, including involvement from parents, alerts sending, homework scanning and check, and remote tutoring via cameras.

Tmall Genie E1

Based on its strength in cloud computing and fundamental technologies, Alibaba pushes into education through Taobao Education, Alibaba Cloud and Ding Talk-based smart campus business, as well as education hardware products under Tmall Genie.

Alibaba has recently unveiled its first smart hardware product focused on education — Tmall Genie E1 — an AIoT-backed device with a smart screen and education apps provided by its partners to offer services by connecting parents, children, and education partners.

More entrants

In spite of the relief for busy and anxious working parents, these products are also deemed as an approach for education service providers to compete for acquiring new customers, as it becomes more difficult and costly to attract students and parents through advertisements and TV program sponsorship amid fierce competition and a regulatory crackdown.

“Many companies are interested in making hardware products because these products will definitely become a frontier for customer acquisition over the long term,” said Zhou Feng, CEO of NetEase Youdao, which launched its own hardware — Youdao Dictionary Pen using OCR to transfer Chinese or English words or sentences into the pen.

According to the 2021 China Educational Smart Hardware Trend Insight Report published by iResearch, the educational smart hardware market in China is expected to reach RMB100 billion in the next three years from RMB45 billion in 2021. Emerging categories, including smart lamps, smart speakers with screens, and homework error printers, have much more room to increase than traditional hardware.

Chinese giants like Tencent and Alibaba have already ventured into various sectors ranging from entertainment and finance to healthcare and education, by taking advantage of their strengths in technologies, capital, and a wide customer base.

They are also seeking new areas of growth in the edtech industry, and then set sights on the major challenge faced by Chinese parents — homework tutoring, which often requires parents to spare much time and energy. The desk lamp in front of children while doing homework is a new device that they can add more smart functions beyond basic illumination.

These companies are all investing in the connection between parents and children, between online and offline usage scenarios, as well as between themselves and other education providers, etc. Not lamps.

As the race began, they will not be the only new entrant to the smart lamp realm. As reported, Chinese tutoring companies, including TAL, New Oriental, Zuoyebang, and Yuanfudao, are going to introduce their smart lamps.

Overseas tech giants, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon, also have developed their own hardware products, including Chromebook, Surface and Amazon smart speakers, to extend into services for students and thus grow presence in education.

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