Huawei May Add Yandex Voice Assistant Alice to Smartphones

Chinese tech giant Huawei may add Alice, the voice assistant created by Russian internet search engine firm Yandex, to its smartphones, according to a report from Vedomosti via Telecompaper.

Russian Voice Assistant, Chinese Smartphones

Huawei Mobile Services president Alex Zhang is in discussions with Yandex about several potential partnerships, including adding Alice to Huawei’s phones. Huawei could also potentially add Yandex’s search engine and other products. No final decision has yet been reached or announcement made, but the negotiations have apparently been ongoing all summer.

Yandex is already a major player in tech software, often described as a Russian Google. It offers not only a search engine, but food delivery, carsharing, an Uber-style transportation app, and a wide range of other services.

Alice, the voice assistant launched by Yandex in 2017, is connected to 30 million monthly users, at least according to the company’s own figures. Alice, built with what Yandex calls the “chit-chat” engine, is designed to have more personality than Alexa or Google Assistant, to boost usage. Yandex also launched an open platform for third-party app developers for Alice last year. Most Alice users connect via smartphone, as the company delivered only 40,000 of the Yandex.Station smart speakers released last May by the end of 2018.

Huawei Assistant Assisted

Huawei created its own voice assistant, Xiaoyi, and invested a lot of time and resources into developing it. That voice assistant has mainly been used for the smart speakers aimed at the company’s Chinese market. When it comes to phones, Huawei has experimented with including other voice assistant brands. The Huawei Note 9, released in January 2017, had Amazon Alexa built into it. Google Assistant is featured in several Huawei phones because they use Android OS.

One motivation behind working with Yandex may be political. Huawei was working on a new smart speaker powered by Google Assistant but had to halt work on it after an executive order by the U.S. put new restrictions on tech imports from China. Huawei debuted a smart speaker with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant called AI Cube at the IFA trade show last year, but it failed to take off. The new Google Assistant-enabled device was supposed to be part of the IFA trade show this year but now looks to be on hold for the foreseeable future. Huawei may instead build its next generation of devices for Alice.