Huawei Launching Sound X Smart Speaker in Europe Without a Voice Assistant
Chinese tech giant Huawei announced on Monday that it will release its Sound X smart speaker in Europe in the next few weeks. The Sound X is the first Huawei smart speaker to debut outside of China but will arrive without a voice assistant speaker, reducing the Sound X to a very sophisticated Bluetooth speaker in its early days.
Silent Smart Speaker
The Sound X smart speaker was built by Huawei and French audio startup Devialet. While there’s no official timeline or price for the Sound X in Europe, it will be on sale in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. The speaker went on sale in China this past fall, for about $285. Devialet’s high-end audio tech has garnered a notable list of investors like Jay-Z and customers such as the Paris Opera, which will use Devialet’s Phantom speakers in the Palais Garnier
Though the Sound X hardware will be the same in Europe as it is in China, the new devices won’t have an AI built-in. The speakers use Huawei’s Xiaoyi voice assistant in China, but the AI doesn’t operate elsewhere. There had been rumors that the Sound X would use Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant in other countries, but that’s not the case right now. The U.S. put Huawei on a blacklist over security concerns that prevent American companies like Amazon and Google from forming the partnerships necessary to add their voice assistants to Huawei’s technology.
Smart But Featureless
That doesn’t mean Huawei has no options. There are open-source options for voice command and machine-learning software that could let users control the speakers by voice. But, voice command is only one reason people are interested in smart speakers. Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri, and their competitors offer features like voice apps, a shared platform, connections with smart home products and other Internet of Things devices. A voice assistant that only runs the speaker is unlikely to draw as many customers, even with very high-end audio hardware.
An open-source voice interface would also go against Huawei’s strategy to this point. Xiaoyi is limited to China, but Huawei has been partnering with other voice assistant developers to extend its reach while maintaining some control. Google Assistant is the voice assistant on several Huawei phones because they use Android OS, for instance. Huawei was also working on a new smart speaker powered by Google Assistant but had to halt work on it after the 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 Huawei Note 9 smartphone also had Alexa built-in, although the ban had not gone into effect in 2017 when the Note 9 was released. More recently, Huawei has been in talks with Yandex, the Russian developer of the Alice voice assistant, about adding Alice to Huawei’s hardware.
The release of the Sound X has already been muted. Mobile World Congress (MWC), where it was to debut, was canceled for the first time in 33 years because of concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. If the smart speaker is going to snag any market share in Europe, it will need to justify its high cost with at least some voice software appeal.