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Competition for Alexa? LG Uplus announces new voice-controlled smart home gadgets

A Korean cellular carrier -- and LG subsidiary -- is debuting a pair of always-on, always-listening smart home devices. Sound familiar?

Is this LG's Amazon Echo competitor?
LG Uplus / Conexant

With the success of the Amazon Echo, the online mega-retailer's increasingly popular smart speaker, it was inevitable that we'd start seeing competitors begin to emerge, just as it's inevitable that tech journalists will begin making cheesy "is there an Echo in here?" jokes as it happens. So, let's just get this out of the way.

Is there an Echo in here?

It seems like there might be. LG Uplus, a South Korean cellular carrier that's a subsidiary of LG, is rolling out a pair of voice-activated smart home products, including an always-on, always-listening smart speaker that boasts the same sort of far-field voice recognition technology as the Amazon Echo. Dubbed the IoT Hub, the device will let users control connected lights, thermostats, locks and more using basic voice commands. It even has a colorful (and familiar-looking) ring of LED lights up on top.

Device no. 2 is the tvG Woofer Set Top Box. It's essentially a thin pedestal packed with a four-channel speaker, two subwoofers, and microphones designed to hear you no matter where you are in the room, regardless of background noise. You'll slip it under your television set, then pipe your home entertainment audio through it. If you want to search for something to watch, you'll be able to do so using voice commands.

The "tvG Woofer" from LG Uplus.

LG Uplus / Conexant

The info on these two devices is pretty scarce at this point. We don't know what they'll cost, when they'll be released, or if they'll ever see the light of day outside of Korea. We don't know if the IoT Hub will also stream music and tell dumb jokes like Alexa will, or if the tvG Woofer includes any of the Hub's smart home controls.

On top of that, it was only two months ago that LG debuted a smart-home hub with a decidedly Echo-esque appearance -- and that gadget didn't incorporate far-field voice recognition at all. If the LG Uplus gear is hinting at a bigger voice control play from LG that's yet to come, it would seem to step all over that gadget's heels.

It's also important to note that the Amazon Echo didn't make its debut as a smart-home hub, but instead, as a music streaming device. Though it's since grown into something considerably more multifunctional than that, it was on-demand access to music (and the charms of "Alexa," its virtual assistant) that baited the hook -- not the fact that it can serve as a hub for the Internet of Things (IoT).

If LG plans on expanding its own IoT Hub or a device like it in order to make a play at the Echo's success, it'll be interesting to see whether or not the masses bite. Hopefully, it knows a couple of really good dumb jokes.