2016 was a big year for Huawei, shipping more than 139 million smartphones, a 29% increase over 2015 and they’re now one of the top three global smart phone brands. So much for the market stagnating — not for Huawei. Their investment of over US$38 billion over the last ten years is beginning to pay off, big time. At their keynote event at CES 2017, the Chinese juggernaut expanded on what all this R&D is driving towards, introducing their next evolution in smartphones – the “Intelligent Phone”.

The Intelligent Phone

In a world where basically everything is becoming connected, Huawei plan to use an AI-powered Intelligent Phone to anticipate our needs with “new functionality that will truly match the way we think and feel”. The idea is that the phone will emulate the human capacity to interact with and understand the world around it. To do this will require all sorts of new sensors, microphones and an increase in battery life. This is the main focus of Huawei’s hardware R&D — sensor technology, machine learning, data management and chipset.

Huawei’s Consumer Business Group CEO Richard Yu said in the keynote:

“Currently people connect with the digital world using their smartphones. In the future, the intelligent Phone will change all of this. The Intelligent phone will be an extension of who we are – an indispensable part of our lives that uses artificial intelligence to adapt to our needs, allowing us to seamlessly interact with the real and digital worlds.”

In partnership with Google and Amazon (yes Alexa is everywhere at CES, Google Assistant had better watch out) Huawei are trying to accelerate the development of new innovative technologies and experiences. What exactly this means is anyone’s guess, but both of these companies have done a lot of research into AIs and Huawei want to make an Intelligent Phone focused entirely around AI. You do the math.

Mate 9 and Amazon Alexa

The Mate 9 was announced a while ago now, and looks to be an amazing phone but as yet has not been widely available. At the keynote it was announced that it would go on sale from today in the UA for US$599 in Space Grey and Moonlight Silver. There are no carriers deals, instead the phone can be purchased outright from BestBuy, and from e-retailers Amazon, NewEgg and B&H (a bold move in the US market still dominated by carrier tie-ups).

With Google limiting the devices that can use Google Assistant, many companies are looking elsewhere, especially to what some would say is a more mature and often better AI, Amazon’s Alexa. Huawei have done this too and the Mate 9 will be Huawei’s first smartphone to come with the voice-interactive app, Amazon Alexa.

What is interesting is that Huawei have told us for a while that they are moving towards simultaneous worldwide releases of their smartphones. We understand that Huawei will be announcing date, price and details of Mate 9 availability in Australia in the next couple of weeks. 

With the Amazon Alexa services not available in Australia (yet… but we wouldn’t be surprised to see that change very soon) the Mate 9 is not expected to release here with Amazon Alexa. Whether it is upgradeable to include Amazon Alexa in the future when the service does release is unknown. Huawei are hoping to find out more details for us soon on that. With a review device promised for us ASAP, keep your eyes peeled here for more info as it becomes available.

Mate 9 and Daydream VR

When the Mate 9 was released it was expected and thought to be Huawei’s first phone that was Daydream VR compatible. It seems that it is, but not the standard variant that we will be seeing here. 

The Huawei Mate 9 Pro and Huawei Porsche Design Mate 9 are Huawei’s first Google Daydream-ready devices. According to Amit Singh, Vice President of Business and Operations for Google’s Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality team, in 2017, Google and Huawei will also work together to offer high quality smartphone AR on Huawei devices through Project Tango’s motion tracking, area learning and depth perception technologies.

With Huawei’s focus on innovation and technology it is great to see them pushing the envelope like this with these devices. 

Hopefully we will see more of Huawei’s full range of devices coming downunder sooner rather than not.