Virtual assistants are everywhere, and Big Tech is adamant that they will make our lives easier and more convenient – because once connected to our devices we can use those assistants to control everything with nothing more than our voice. Which sounds cool, even though it's usually easier to just do things the old-fashioned way (or that's my experience, anyway). Naturally lots of companies have their own take on AI assistants, and today it was announced that Huawei is going to be joining them with one of its own.
Huawei has had a voice assistant, called Xiaoyi, available in the Chinese market for quite some time, but now it's going international with an assistant called 'Celia'. It's set to debut on the P40 series in six markets, and at first glance I'm getting some big Bixby flashbacks.
Bixby is Samsung's virtual assistant that debuted on the Galaxy S8 and proceeded to go absolutely nowhere. It's only been available on Samsung tablets and phones, while the promise of a Bixby-centric smart speaker has failed to materialise. That isn't particularly good when the likes of Alexa and Google Assistant are compatible with countless third party devices, and the latter coming as standard on every Android phone.
Celia is set to debut in six markets (including the UK, but not Australia), initially coming to just the P40 series before rolling out to other devices (I would guess the recently-announced Sound X speaker is also on the cards). That's a big barrier of entry, since there isn't a standalone device people can pick up and use Celia with - as was the case with Alexa and the Echo. Plus the cheapest P40 phone is $1,099, and that has the added disadvantage of not coming with any Google services.
From a usage perspective, it's all very familiar. You say "Hey Celia" to call up the assistant, or alternatively you can press and hold the power button for one second to activate it. Then it can do all those things like set alarms, change settings, make calendar entries and so on. It also integrates with Huawei's existing AI lens so you can control what that does using your voice. It's all very standard stuff, which certainly doesn't work in Celia's favour.
Do we really need another virtual assistant? Alexa and Google are pretty much dominating everything, while Siri is hanging on purely down to the the sheer number of Apple devices that run it and Apple's own unwillingness to give in. So really we do not, but at the same time Huawei probably does. Since it's on a US trade ban it can't have things like Google Assistant on its devices - so it has no choice but to roll out its existing virtual assistant if it wants to keep up with the latest trends.
Otherwise the price of the P40 devices would be far more extreme than it already is.
This post originally appeared on Gizmodo UK, which is gobbling up the news in a different timezone.