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Tencent keeps trying to build hardware, but nobody’s buying


The AchieVer

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People know Tencent for its enormous gaming and social empire, but what you may not know is it also has a line of hardware.

You probably don’t know about it because nobody’s buying Tencent’s hardware.

An online entertainment giant in China, Tencent operates the hugely popular all-purpose app WeChat and the hit game Arena of Valor. It also owns the companies behind Clash of Clans and League of Legends.

Tencent’s digital photo frame, its first homemade hardware, was long awaited when it launched in 2015. Built for displaying pictures and making video calls, it allows users to receive photos sent from multiple WeChat accounts and react and send back comments on the pictures displayed on the screen.

Of the few who used it, some said it’s great for keeping in touch with the elderly in their homes. But others pointed out that it has a very limited user experience. It doesn’t do much albeit costing between 699 yuan (US$101) and 1,699 yuan (US$246). Unlike a tablet, it needs to be plugged to a power outlet all the time and doesn’t have much storage. It doesn’t also let users export photos.

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Many people say they’d rather buy a tablet for over US$200. / Photo credit: Tencent

The funny thing is that Tencent’s latest stab at hardware bears a pretty decent resemblance to that frame. Smart displays are hot, with Google, Amazon, and Facebook all evolving to smart speakers this year.

Tencent’s answer is the Dingdang smart display, which has an eight-inch screen and provides access to the company’s content, including Tencent Video and QQ. It costs 699 yuan (US$101), same as Baidu’s smart display Xiaodu Zaijia.

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The Dingdang smart display measures eight inches. / Photo credit: Tencent

But those sort of features are pretty standard among smart displays, which have yet to prove themselves as a new category of devices. Dingdang comes after Tencent’s smart speaker flopped. Launched in April, the Tingting speaker boasts the ability to let users operate WeChat with voice command, which some users said is not very useful because it is essentially similar to leaving a voicemail.

It also doesn’t appear to have sold very well based on reactions on ecommerce sites. It only received around 18,000 reviews, which may be due to its US$101 price. That might not seem too expensive, but Baidu’s new US$11 speaker received more than 260,000 reviews.

One of China’s three tech titans (it’s the B in BAT), Baidu is effectively the country’s Google. It’s China’s biggest search engine and is now investing heavily in AI and self-driving cars.

If Dingdang fails to catch on, it won’t be the only piece of hardware from Tencent to be ignored.

Back in 2015, Tencent also made a wearable camera that looks like the Narrative Clip “life-logging” camera, which was a brief hit at SXSW for one year. But nobody really talks about Tencent’s camera anymore.

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The US$86 Qlippie camera lets you share pictures and videos directly on WeChat. / Photo credit: Tencent.

Tencent also made a pair of glasses that looks a lot like Snapchat Spectacles. The glasses were launched only last month, so it’s hard to say if it will take off one day or sell as poorly as the product they’re based on, because Snapchat Spectacles didn’t do very well either.

Still, if the whole hardware thing doesn’t work out for Tencent, they can console themselves with their software strength: WeChat has over a billion users, after all.

 

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