Huawei Is Developing Its Own Voice Assistant for Smartphones

One of China's largest smartphone makers wants to take on Siri.

Inside a testing center at Huawei's campus in Shenzhen, China.

Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

Huawei Technologies Co., the third-largest smartphone maker, is preparing to enter the competitive world of digital assistants with its own voice-powered service, people familiar with the matter said. 

A team of more than a hundred engineers is in the early stages of developing the technology at its Shenzhen, China offices, one of the people said. The efforts are extensive and are aimed at Apple Inc.'s Siri, Amazon.com Inc.'s Alexa, and Alphabet Inc.'s Google Assistant, not smaller players, the person said.

Huawei's assistant would communicate in Chinese languages and target domestic users while the company will continue to work with Google and Amazon outside China, one of the other people said. They asked not to be identified as the details are private. 

Building its own answer to Siri may help Huawei devices stand out in a crowded Chinese market, where many Google services that come with the dominant Android smartphone operating system are blocked. 

Huawei is targeting $33 billion in sales from its consumer business this year. The company trails only Apple and Samsung Electronics Co. in global smartphone shipments as it pushes upmarket with premium features. 

Having a major Android device manufacturer choose to build a voice assistant in-house may throw another wrench in Google's plans. Huawei last month announced it would use Alexa on its Mate 9 smartphones in the U.S. Currently, the Google Assistant only runs on Google's Pixel smartphone, Home speaker and smartwatches running the latest version of the Android Wear software. The largest online search company is trying to get third-party device makers to pre-install its assistant, according to people familiar with the talks.

Spokespeople for Huawei and Google declined to comment. 

Huawei is not the first Android device manufacturer to develop its own service over using Google's. Samsung acquired Viv Labs last year, a startup formed by some Siri founders, to serve as the basis for its own voice assistant. Samsung plans to release the first devices with this new technology later this year. Chinese search giant Baidu Inc. announced its own voice service in 2015.

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