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Encouraged by the growing activity in the smart home industry, Chinese hardware manufacturer Lenovo has decided to enter the market with a new voice-activated smart speaker. The company is initially targeting the US and Chinese markets, offering the same device, but powered by different AI engines: Amazon's Alexa in the US and AISpeech in China. From the beginning, Lenovo's strategy for the smart home has been based on strategic partnerships that provide the platform and local know-how necessary to make a successful market incursion. Ovum expects more vendors to follow this path of picking the right partners for the right markets.

Partnering is key in the smart home market

The take-up of smart home solutions is on the rise. By 2021, Ovum predicts that each smart home household will use on average 8.7 devices. This is making more and more companies eager to jump into the smart home space. But, before taking the plunge, these companies need to decide whether to enter the market with a new proprietary solution or simply partner with key market players that have already made significant inroads.

Lenovo has chosen the latter for its new voice-controlled speaker. The company has announced the launch of Lenovo Smart Assistant, a smart device that looks like Amazon Echo and even comes equipped with the Alexa Voice Service in the US. The solution will offer exactly the same "skills," integration, and smart home functionality as Amazon Echo, but will differ on design and audio quality. For example, like Amazon Echo, Lenovo will integrate Orbita's voice experience manager to design home-care experiences for healthcare service providers. These will aim to improve patient engagement and care coordination at home through virtual assistants.

The partnership with Lenovo is good news for Amazon, enabling it to continue to grow within the voice-controlled speaker market and expand into more smart device categories, including Lenovo's smartphones, tablets, and even PCs in the near future. The business alliance will help Alexa gain ubiquity in multiple smart living scenarios and help Amazon to fulfill its wish to be omnipresent in the life of consumers.

To address the Chinese market, Lenovo has again decided to go with the tried-and-tested. Its selected partner is AISpeech, a speech technology provider specializing in spoken dialog systems for the Chinese market which had previously received financial support from Lenovo and other companies to expand in the AI industry. To be more assertive in its home market, Lenovo had to look for a partner capable of understanding the distinctive features of Chinese culture and how they differ from those in Western economies. AISpeech's partner ecosystem will enable Lenovo to use local service providers to deliver connected services tailored to the needs of Chinese consumers. Over the past few years, consumer behavior and motivation in China have changed, leading market participants to focus on the country's cultural diversity and consumer psychology if they want to have a better chance of succeeding.

The wide range of Chinese accents and dialects presents a challenge that local specialists are, at least currently, best prepared to tackle. AISpeech's voice experience design approach is based on 2,000 native grammar scales in addition to gender and age identification features. This will give Lenovo the ability to stand out in the almost untapped Chinese market for voice-activated speakers.



Mariana Zamoszczyk, Senior Analyst, Consumer Services

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