Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant is having a good CES. Not only landing inside additional speaker hardware but finding entirely new incarnations in other connected household items — such as a lamp, a smart fridge and even a robot vacuum cleaner. Cars are on its roadmap too.
But it’s also now heading into third party smartphone hardware, with Chinese Android OEM Huawei announcing it will be pre-loading the AI assistant into the US version of its Mate 9 flagship smartphone.
Huawei launched its flagship Mate 9 phablet in Europe and Asia late last year without the Alexa pre-load so it’s evidently hoping to raise its profile in the US with the help of Amazon’s ecommerce empire. According to Phys.org, the handset will be available in the US in “early 2017”. Update: A Huawei press release says the device will go on sale in the US starting from January 6.
Huawei said existing Mate 9 owners will be able to get the Alexa app via an over-the-air update. “Huawei and Amazon will collaborate to develop rich voice activated consumer experiences for mobile users,” it added.
The smartphone voice assistant landscape is very fiercely contested, with Apple’s now long-in-the-tooth Siri assistant battling it out with Google’s redoubled efforts, in the form of an upgraded Google Assistant, currently available on its own hardware and via its Allo cross-platform messaging app; meanwhile last year Samsung acquired Siri creators’ next effort, Viv to push its own AI platform smarts; and Microsoft has opened up access to its cross-platform Cortana AI.
For Android OEMs that don’t have the resources to acquire or develop their own AI voice smarts, Amazon’s Alexa looks to be lining up as an attractive pre-load option, especially for markets such as the US where the ecommerce giant dominates online shopping.
In other words: it’s the services, stupid. So it seems unlikely Huawei will be the only OEM seeking to boost handset sales with an Alexa pre-load.
Speaking to TechCrunch yesterday, analyst Gartner talked up the growing opportunity for voice-driven connected devices, arguing that consumers are looking for “different ways of interacting with their devices”, and for devices that can provide “a better experience”.