Market Insight

Huawei delivers Amazon Alexa integration on Mate 9 in the US

March 24, 2017

Gerrit Schneemann Gerrit Schneemann Senior Analyst, Smartphones

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A software update to the Huawei Mate 9 in the US installs Huawei’s Alexa app on the handset. With the integration of Amazon Alexa, Huawei is taking its virtual assistant strategy beyond China where the company is relying on its own ecosystem.

  • The software update installs the Huawei Alexa app on the phone.
  • Users have to download the Amazon Alexa app as well – both are necessary for the experience to function as intended.
  • Huawei Alexa is not “always-on” – users have to open the app to use it.
  • A good first step for Huawei beyond its home market.

Our analysis  

The availability of Amazon’s Alexa on the Huawei Mate 9 is important for Huawei in the US market for multiple reasons. First, the company was able to deliver on its promise to be the first handset maker to make Alexa available on Android in this market. Secondly, the inclusion of Amazon’s Alexa ecosystem by extension gives Huawei access to a popular brand, content and services in the US market – without having to build that ecosystem alone. As the company continues its work to expand its visibility with US consumers, integrating Amazon services provides a halo effect Huawei hopes will translate into increased handset sales and deeper carrier relationships.

User experience split between applications

Users have to open the Huawei Alexa application to use voice commands to invoke skills, ask questions and utilize Alexa capabilities. However, the Huawei app only provides a vocal response – a visual record of the inquiry is only available in the Amazon Alexa app, which is also needed to manage connected apps and devices.

The need for two applications highlights the low level of integration on the handset currently available on the Mate 9. Huawei tries to combat this by pushing users to use the company’s “knuckle gesture” interface: tapping on the screen and drawing a predetermined letter opens the Huawei Alexa app. This is the beginning of an evolving partnership and user experience.

Away from Huawei

With Alexa, Huawei does not have to create a content and services ecosystem in the US, like it is currently doing in China for its proprietary solution, launched on the Honor Magic last year. The desire to bring a rather complete solution to one of the company’s underserved markets in the smartphone business pushed Huawei towards Alexa.

While the company can claim first-to-market and early adopter status, relying on an external partner also means that the enabled handsets are now gateways and extensions of Amazon’s commerce and knowledge ecosystem, with little tie back to the Huawei device or the brand in general.

Huawei’s AI solution on the Honor Magic includes features, like face recognition-enabled notification display, which tie content and hardware-based capabilities together – creating a unified user experience tied to the Honor device.

Samsung is using a similar approach by repositioning its Bixby assistant as a user interface layer, instead of a gateway to other content or services. While launching light on knowledge features, like Google Assistant or Alexa, Samsung plans to enable a large number of activities on enabled devices, which could include interacting with the services mentioned. Critically, Samsung capabilities continue to be present throughout the experience.

Going forward, Huawei has two paths to success with its current virtual assistant efforts: work on tighter integration between its own software and apps and the Amazon ecosystem to create a tangible user benefit tied to Huawei hardware. This will be essential for the strategy to bear fruits in the US market.

Secondly, Huawei should expand its application and content ecosystem in China as well as other markets, like Europe where the brand has been growing as well as the US. If the company cannot create locally relevant assistant services, Huawei will continue to be a pass-through device for other services in this space: including Google’s Assistant, Amazon and other potential providers.

*A detailed look at Huawei’s efforts with Honor Magic in China can be found here.

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