Voice technology may be poised for a breakthrough with Chinese consumers.

Worldwide, more consumers are interacting with technology using their voices. As the Innovation Group London and Mindshare Futures found in our Speak Easy report, consumers who use voice technology think that it frees them from having to look at screens, helps them organize their lives, and is less mentally draining than traditional touch or typing devices.

Among the many markets where voice technology is catching on, China faces unique challenges and opportunities. The complex Chinese writing system means that current methods of selecting characters using keyboards can be slow and laborious, which suggests that fully functional voice technology would find an instant market. Spoken Chinese, however, has proven difficult for computers to decipher.

DingDong A1

But voice technology is moving ahead anyway. 2015 saw the release of the LingLong DingDong, a product created through a partnership between iFlytek and JD.com, which has become known as China’s answer to the Amazon Echo. The device can understand both Mandarin and Cantonese. It plays music, gives directions, answers questions about the weather and the news, and more. The Tmall Genie, a similar product, functions using Alibaba’s voice assistant, AliGenie.

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Not to be left out, Chinese search giant Baidu is also developing a smart conversational platform, called DuerOS. The platform has already been used in a range of applications, including taking orders at KFC, serving as an operating system for TVs, and acting as a phone assistant, similar to Apple’s Siri.

“I see speech approaching a point where it could become so reliable that you can just use it and not even think about it,” Andrew Ng, Baidu’s chief scientist and an associate professor at Stanford University, told MIT Technology Review. “The best technology is often invisible, and as speech recognition becomes more reliable, I hope it will disappear into the background.”

The Speak Easy Global report from the Innovation Group London and Mindshare Futures found that weekly use of voice technology in China is 31%, mirroring the global average. There also appears to be a strong appetite for voice, with only 4% of Chinese respondents saying they will never use it.

Chinese survey respondents are enthusiastic, Speak Easy Global found. A 40-year-old male focus group participant said “I like my Duer so much that I wish I could have a real robot instead of just a virtual voice.”

Our research also found that more than in any other market, Chinese consumers want their voice assistants to be “human.” Brands can stand out by developing unique, personable voice applications that take a proactive role in their users’ lives.

Elizabeth Cherian, the Innovation Group’s UK director, explains the results of the Speak Easy research across nine global markets in a new interview with The Store WPP.