While Huawei has offered its own version of Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant in China (called Xiaoyi) for a while, it has long been rumored to be working on an incarnation for international markets too. Celia, as the assistant is called, will be made available first on its newly-announced P40 flagship lineup in six markets, with plans to bring it to other devices in the future.
Celia will be be available in the U.K., France, Spain, Chile, Mexico, and Colombia, and will be conversant in three languages — English, French, and Spanish.
Huawei was well on its way to catching up with Samsung at the top of the global smartphone market, but then last May the U.S. placed Huawei on a trade blacklist, meaning that no U.S. company could offer Huawei their services — this included Google and Android. The upshot of all this is that Huawei has had to expedite alternative versions of core Google services, including a voice assistant.
During a virtual keynote earlier today, Huawei consumer group chief Richard Yu proclaimed the quality of the device’s hardware, with a particular focus on its multi-lens camera array.
However, the main concern for consumers lies in the fact that this device won’t offer anything in the way of Google’s services — be that Google Play, YouTube, Google Maps, and more. The lack of Google Play means that myriad apps won’t be available for users, though Huawei does offer its own AppGallery where some of the most popular Android apps are available.
Still, Huawei is hopeful that it can encourage more developers to build for Huawei, and that the “Google problem” will dissipate over time. In the meantime, the company is continuing to roll out new devices underpinned by a combination of proprietary and third-party software.
As with other virtual assistants on the market, Celia has a wake word — “Hey Celia.” Alternatively, users can press and hold the power button for one second to activate Celia. After that, users can ask Celia to make a phone call, send a text, set an alarm, turn off Bluetooth, set up a calendar appointment, and more.
Additionally, Huawei is launching a new feature called “face to face translate.” This means that Celia will serve as a virtual translator between two individuals in the same room, with each user seeing the words spoken by the other person on their phone’s screen in real time — this will work in English, French, and Spanish.
Elsewhere, Celia will also work with Huawei’s existing AI Lens feature, which means the user can hover their phone’s camera over a piece of food and say, “Hey Celia, how many calories are in this?” or ask Celia what type of flower is in front of them.
The information will be displayed on the user’s phone screen as before, the main difference now being that they can use their voice to activate the feature.
Huawei added that it will be expanding Celia to support more features, languages, and countries in future releases. Additionally, it plans to introduce Celia to other devices it brings to market, be that speakers, TVs, laptops, or whatever else.