Meet Celia, Huawei’s Google Assistant Replacement

Siri, Google Assistant, Bixby, Cortana, Alexa and now Celia. Yes, there is yet another voice assistant in the market thanks to Huawei. But what sets Celia apart from the competition and what does that mean for the larger ecosystem of voice assistants?

Hi Celia

Huawei first announced Celia at the end of March 2020. The feature was part of its EMUI 10.1 software, which debuted on its flagship P40 Pro Android-powered phone the following month. At the basic level, it mimics much of the functionality of other assistants.

To wake him up, you just say “Hi Celia”. You can also double-tap the power button. Celia is then ready to process your request. Like its more established rivals, you can also set alarms, send text messages, check the weather, and more.

A calendar alert from Celia.

Additionally, Celia can use your phone’s camera to search for products online and provide estimated nutritional information for foods. This feature is derived from Huawei’s HiVision technology, which was first released in 2018 to coincide with the launch of its flagship P20 series.

As a company, Huawei has long been interested in the computer vision aspect of artificial intelligence. One of the main features of its smartphone camera software is Master AI, which automatically adjusts camera settings based on the subject being photographed.

According to a representative from the Huawei company we spoke to last year, this technology is so precisely tuned that it can even recognize multiple breeds of dogs. It’s hardly surprising, then, that Huawei has decided to showcase it in its new AI assistant technology.

Celia is based on Xiaoyi (not to be confused with XiaoYi cameras or the phone maker, Xiaomi), Huawei’s existing voice assistant, which was launched in the Chinese market in 2018. It has caused a wave of rumors according to which Huawei would soon release an alternative to outgoing assistants, which finally came to fruition earlier this year.

How to get Celia

Huawei has so far refrained from offering Celia to third-party devices. To get it, you need a Huawei device running its EMUI 10.1 software. For Western customers, this includes the P40 and P30 series, as well as the Mate 30 and Mate 20 devices.

So far, Huawei has chosen to market Celia in a handful of markets (UK, Spain, France, South Africa and several Latin American countries). It supports English, French and Spanish.

You may need to manually activate Celia to make it work. To do this, go to Settings> Huawei Assistant> AI Voice. Next, press “Wake up voice” and set it to “On”, and do the same for “Wake up with the power button”.

Meet Huawei

Huawei is not particularly well known in the United States. Elsewhere, however, he was once a towering figure in the smartphone market, offering fierce competition to Samsung and Apple.

During the first quarter of 2019, Huawei represented 26% of all phones sold in Europe. In its home territory of mainland China, it took a 34 percent share of all phone sales during the same period. By the first quarter of 2020, that figure had risen to 41%.

Huawei also operates a vibrant business of network equipment, which powers cellular and broadband networks in many countries.

In May 2019, the Trump administration placed Huawei and its associated subsidiaries on a Treasury Department list of entities. This effectively prohibits US-based companies from negotiating with the besieged Chinese company without authorization.

As a result, the new phones from Huawei came with the open-source version of Android, without the exclusive Google extras. It means not from Google Play Store, YouTube, Gmail or Google Assistant.

It looks like this conflict with the US government will continue over the next few months, if not years. This prompted Huawei to replace Google’s ecosystem with its own alternatives as quickly as possible. Considering this, it’s no surprise that Huawei is also working on a new operating system called Harmony OS.

Huawei mobile services are at the heart of Huawei’s Android ecosystem. This includes a set of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to handle things like DRM, authentication, and in-app purchases. In addition to all this, Huawei also has its own app store, the Huawei AppGallery.

The Huawei AppGallery.

As of this writing, however, the AppGallery is a sterile experience. There are a lot of apps missing that you would probably consider essential. For example, there are hardly any banking or financial apps. Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp are also conspicuously absent.

Huawei did manage to grab a few early wins though, as Snapchat and various Microsoft and Amazon apps are available in the AppGallery. It also contains Here WeGo, a mapping app that previously came with Nokia Windows phones and is one of the more popular standalone options.

If Huawei can maintain its momentum, it’s entirely plausible that a schism will emerge in the Android sphere, with two separate ecosystems vying for dominance – and Celia will be a big part of it.

RELATED: What is Harmony OS? Huawei’s new operating system explained

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