Huawei’s Celia Voice Assistant Will Run on Yandex’s Alice Platform in Russia

Huawei’s Celia voice assistant will operate in Russia with support from Russian search engine giant Yandex and its Alice voice AI platform, according to a report by Kommersant. The arrangement is the culmination of a long-rumored deal between the two companies that will help Huawei build its Russian services while bringing Yandex’s software to Huawei customers.

Alice and Celia

Alice is Yandex’s original voice assistant. The Russian tech firm has been promoting the platform and adding new features to it at a rapid clip this year, including paying at restaurants, making bets on sports, and even acting as an art critic. Celia, meanwhile, is Huawei’s voice assistant for the international market, separate from the Xiaoyi voice assistant it supports in China. Celia, created for the P40 smartphone series, launched understanding English, French, and Spanish, but has just added Italian, German, Japanese, and Russian.

Some Huawei phones in Russia come with Alice pre-installed, but the new deal will use Alice as a supporting system while using Celia to interact with users. By combining the two, Celia may adapt more quickly to the unique aspects of the Russian language and the needs of those particular consumers. The Huawei AppGallery provides some Android apps to the P40, but, no Google products means no Gmail, YouTube, or the entire Google Play store. Popular third-party apps won’t be available either. It’s hard to imagine a smartphone that can’t add Instagram, Spotify, Twitter, Uber, or WhatsApp selling well. How that will work in the Russian market isn’t obvious, but any Celia-powered phones will operate differently from other brands.

Russian Competition

The experimental nature of the deal fits with how Huawei has been treating Celia as more than just a smartphone voice assistant, trying out new ideas for the AI. For instance, Huawei launched Celia in India in June, integrating it into its mobile app and website with the same wake word system. But, rather than just performing like Siri or Google Assistant, Celia in India acts as a Huawei informational guide. Celia answers questions about smartphones to help people choose one to buy, and can troubleshoot technical problems by text and voice.

For Yandex, the arrangement with Huawei offers a good chance to score more of the Russian voice assistant device market. While Alice does count more than 30 million monthly users, mostly on mobile devices, it faces plenty of battles to retain and add to that number. Google Assistant and Alexa are pushing into the country, with Google, in particular, leveraging Android devices to boost Google Assistant. Other Russian companies aren’t letting Yandex have its own way either. Russian Tinkoff Bank’s Oleg voice assistant and Mail.Ru’s Marusya are both coming at the market, albeit from different angles. Augmenting Alice with Celia could be how Yandex pushes ahead of its rivals.


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