Huawei, just like other top smartphone manufacturers like Apple, Google and Samsung seem to have joined the AI bandwagon. Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei Technologies Consumer Business Group, had previously denied news regarding the company’s plans on working on a new virtual assistant. The latest report by XDA Developers, however, contradicts Yu’s statement, by revealing the presence of an AI-based HiAssistant in the latest EMUI 8.1 firmware.
One of the developers at XDA, @FunkyHuawei, has unearthed two applications namely HiAssistant and HiAI from the recently released Chinese firmware files of the Huawei Mate 10. The firmware is based on Android Oreo 8.1 with EMUI 8.1 on top. For starters, Huawei started rolling out the EMUI 8.1 earlier this year.
The HiAssistant from Huawei seems to be coming at a time when Google Voice Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa are dominating the market. Much of their popularity has been from the high-flying sales of Amazon Echo and Google Home. Some other notable assistants available in the market include Apple’s Siri and Samsung’s own Bixby. Huawei’s Chinese competitor, Xiaomi itself is trying out their hand in developing a virtual assistant. LeEco too had developed its own AI platform which made its debut on Le Pro 3 AI, but the implementation is nowhere near that of Samsung’s or Google’s.
The presence of AI in a Huawei smartphone isn’t something new. The Chinese OEM used to install an application called HiVoice in all its devices retailing in China. The app offered a basic form of AI-based controls including the ability to make or end calls and even send messages. The task was, however, limited and integration was nowhere near that of other smart assistants.
The all-new HiAssistant, on the other hand, is based on the HiAi Mobile Computing Platform. It utilizes the Neural Processing Unit (NPU) of Huawei’s HiSilicon Kirin 970 chip. Huawei had apparently, showcased the AI based possibilities of the NPU while unveiling the Mate 10. The AI capabilities then were rather limited and included a scene recognition feature in the EMUI app, similar to Bixby Vision from Samsung.
Huawei HiAssistant Features
Huawei seems to have paid keen attention to Natural Language Understanding (NLU) while developing the HiAssistant. By NLU, Huawei is referring to the ability of the voice assistant to interpret incomplete or grammatically incorrect sentences we often use while communicating with each other. Naturally, it would be of great convenience if the HiAssistant would be to understand commands delivered in such a fashion. With that said, it’s hard to make a call on the NLU capabilities just yet and would be safe to leave the final verdict for the official launch of the AI based digital assistant.
The HiAssistant can undertake a wide variety of tasks. It performs almost everything its competitors are capable of, ranging from controlling various basic hardware functions (Bluetooth, NFC, Wi-Fi) to software features like auto-rotation, location settings and more. Furthermore, it seems to capable of controlling popular Chinese messaging apps like QQ and WeChat. The most interesting feature, however, is the integration with a new payment interface called Huawei HiAssistant Bank. It has the ability of send and receive payments from all major Chinese banks.
Huawei HiAssistant Availability
The custom digital assistant developed by Huawei will be only available for users in China. For international consumers, Huawei plans to continue with Google’s own voice assistant. Additionally, only Huawei smartphones powered by Hi-Silicon Kirin 970 will support HiAssistant.