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Lily: The 1st smart speaker that teaches Chinese

Lily is a voice-controlled smart speaker that lets you have interactive conversations with an AI system in order to easily learn Chinese without using flash cards or having to take a class.

It translates in real-time and has various learning levels- from beginner to advanced- along with voice games for fun learning. If you do happen to pronounce a word incorrectly, it even does pronunciation correction and features an app that lets you see written words. It sounds, and somewhat looks, like a new type of voice-assistant, such as Amazon’s Echo.

But, there are some flaws and drawbacks in design and function that you should know about before you decide to support this project. 

Review and Discussion – Is it worth it?

Much like other voice-controlled systems like this one, Lily has a touchpad for manual controls, which seems really helpful. However, the controls are rather complicated. Want to make it “wake up” or pause? That requires a certain number of taps. Want to turn the volume down and not up? You’ll have to remember whether to make a clockwise or counterclockwise motion.

Because of the control system, it may not be the best choice for elderly people, those who aren’t tech-savvy, or small children.

Lily uses a voice-controlled AI system that the company designed. This means that it uses something other than the tried-and-true Cortana or Alexa software. This could be a good thing, because the company did try to specialize the AI software and the audio hardware in order to translate other languages to Chinese.

However, this is the first version of this AI, which means that much like early versions of Amazon and Google’s voice assistants, there will be bugs and problems. 

In case you’re wondering “does it only speak Chinese?”, the answer is yes.

But, they do plan on integrating more languages into the Lily sometime after this campaign is finished and rewards have been fulfilled. They’ve said that the first two new ones will be Spanish and French. You’ll get the new languages along with a software update for free. There are a few drawbacks to this. First, there’s no word on other languages, just Spanish and French, and there’s no date stated as to when they’ll be available. Secondly, if you’ve ever owned a computer or cell phone, then you most likely know that software updates often lead to crashes and bugs. There are frequent updates released to fix the problems caused by the last update. So, this could be really annoying. 

While the company seems to be attempting to create a voice-assistant similar to Alexa or Siri that helps you learn to speak Chinese, they admit that they fall short in that endeavor.

The company states that Lily isn’t as “versatile” as other voice-command AIs on the market, some of which have 20,000 skills. This means that there are a lot of things that Echo can do that Lily can’t. The company’s goal with this product is to teach people Chinese, some of which it seems that people would have learned while navigating a voice-controlled AI system with loads of features and commands, all spoken in Chinese.

However, the developers of Lily must not have thought so, limiting what you can do with it. (And, maybe what you learn, as well.)


Using Lily is a great idea when you’re at home. But, one big flaw in both the product and its concept is that you’re not likely to carry a bulky speaker with you wherever you go. The idea behind the Lily is to learn through immersion, by constantly speaking and hearing the language. This doesn’t work as well if you’re rarely home, can’t use it on a lunch break, on the way home, on walks, etc. There is an app, but it’s secondary to the device, which seems very counter-productive. 

If you’re looking for a device specifically to use at home whose only function is to teach you Chinese, Lily is probably a great device for you. But, if you leave your house a lot, it’s not going to do you a lot of good. It’s insistence on using software updates to introduce new content will likely be a pain. And, if you’re looking for a voice-controlled assistant, like the Amazon Echo, this product probably isn’t for you. 

Learn Chinese The Natural Way
Learn Chinese The Natural Way
This campaign is now funding on Indiegogo.
$149 $399
7.2 Total Score
This speaker speaks to you in Chinese!

Ratings (rate yours)
User Rating: 4 (1 votes)
1 Comment
  1. Some important points about the Lily project. It doesn’t work offline. And that’s a very big deal. Here’s why…

    The folks behind the project (they call themselves Maybe) say that Lily does not work offline because they couldn’t pack the amount of processing horsepower required into Lily’s form factor using today’s tech. That’s not an easy claim to verify. But, let’s assume for the moment that this is accurate. Certain “AI” can be processing intensive so this isn’t too far fetched.

    So the Maybe team plans to store and process everything “in the cloud”. Meaning Lily itself is bluetooth enabled speaker with just enough on board processing and storage to interact with their cloud service. Alleged service at this point since we haven’t actually seen Lily in action beyond promotional videos.
    This presents a few issues. The most obvious is that Lily cannot be used offline for any language training, period. Zip. Nada. Nil. With no network connection, she’s a speaker. Some folks may not realize that, and may not like it. Until the day that Lily or a Lily-like product is able to contain all the tech and storage internally, no network…no language training. To be fair to the Maybe team, this is no different than trying to use advanced features of Google Home Hub offline.

    Less obvious is the fact that near 100% of the value of your investment in a Lily hinges on Maybe staying in business beyond its IndieGogo campaign. At the moment the product isn’t past the “prototype stage”. The $1.33 million raised so far isn’t going to go very far toward developing, manufacturing, shipping and enhancing the product, even for just the first language - Mandarin. Though Maybe claims that it is creating (or has already created) quite a lot of language learning content. I’m hopeful that is true.
    Currently, several thousand backers await their Lily’s. I am one. It’s fair to say we’re all excited based on the promises laid out in its marketing videos. And we hope the Maybe team successfully builds a long-term business. But, if Maybe does not develop and implement a plan to preserve the language training assets, and ensure its customers’ uninterrupted access to those assets, that’s an enormous problem.

    Not that this hasn’t been pointed out to them. If they weren’t thinking about it before, they are now. In the comments section of their campaign, I asked them how they plan to preserve the language assets and our access to those assets should they go out of business or experience an interruption in operations. I asked if they have any sort of dissolution plan. I pointed out that without access to those assets, we’d immediately lose 99% of the promised functionality and end up with nothing more than snowman shaped bluetooth speakers.

    Here is what concerns me most: Of all the questions I had asked (and I asked many), those were the only questions that went unanswered.

    As someone who spent years advising large corporations about information management and preservation strategies, I found the lack of an answer disturbing. Unless Maybe secures funding well above and beyond its IndieGogo campaign, or unless a deep-pocketed company such as Apple or Google scoops it up, I cannot help but wonder hog long Maybe will survive. Given the ambition of the team’s plan, that $1.33 million dollar infusion is either spent or already damn near spent.

    Again…I wouldn’t have backed the project if I didn’t think it was worthwhile. And it’ll be a thrill if and when we receive our Lily units. But, without news of a long-term plan for survival I must temper my enthusiasm with the reality that I may eventually end up with an expensive speaker that does little more than any other bluetooth speaker, if I end up with one at all.

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