Huawei HiAssistant To Show Up in Chinese Smartphone Models
XDA-developers has found evidence of HiAssistant in Huawei’s Kirin 970 model running EMUI 8.1. HiAssistant is Huawei’s alternative to Google Assistant and Siri. Huawei has several phone models that include Google Assistant and its Mate 9 product also has integration with Amazon Alexa. However, The Verge reported in February that a Huawei executive commented during CES that the company would launch its own voice assistant but only in the China. Huawei Consumer Business Group CEO Richard Yu said:
Today, Amazon and Google are stronger than us; Alexa and Google Assistant are better. How can we compete?
Huawei’s Voice Assistant Investment is Not New
Voicebot reported in February 2017 that Huawei had 100 engineers working on its own voice assistant and the surfacing of HiAssistant suggests the solution is nearing public availability. Given the comments by Yu and other reporting by Bloomberg, this move is likely more about competing in China with Alibaba’s AliGenie and Baidu’s DuerOS than any direct competition with Google, Apple or Amazon for voice assistants internationally. XDA’s article commented:
“For their smartphones sold in the Chinese region, Huawei pre-installs an application called ‘HiVoice.’ The app offers very basic controls over your smartphone such as asking where it is and placing a phone call, so it isn’t as sophisticated as other virtual assistants. That is looking to change, however, as Huawei’s work on its Neural Processing Unit (NPU) on the HiSilicon Kirin 970 will finally pay off.
China to Go its Own Way
Google and Amazon are competing aggressively throughout the world, but not in China. Microsoft and Samsung have introduced versions of Cortana and Bixby voice assistants respectively in China with Mandarin support, but Google and Amazon appear content to compete everywhere except for China. Similarly, Alibaba, Baidu, Tencent and Huawei all have initiatives for China, but have not yet been active in other geographies supporting non-Chinese languages. Apple Siri supports both Cantonese and Mandarin and is active it every global geography. However, the company has not sought to aggressively grow the Siri user base. For the time being, it looks like voice assistant competition will be broken down into a set of competitors and China and a different set of competitors everywhere else with only a couple of companies attempting to compete everywhere.