Huawei adds on-phone AI capability to high-end Mate smartphones squarely aimed at Apple

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 October, 2017, 9:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 October, 2017, 11:23am

Chinese smartphone brand Huawei has unveiled its high-end flagship handset – the Mate 10 series – which incorporates advanced technologies including artificial intelligence (AI) with the goal of further eroding top-end smartphone markets controlled by Apple’s iPhones, but still at aggressive prices.

In Munich, Germany on Monday, Huawei’s mobile chief Yu Chengdong said the three successors to its Mate 9 series – the Mate 10, Mate 10 Pro and a special Porsche Design edition – are the first devices powered by Huawei’s self-made Kirin 970 processor that delivers AI enhancements for a faster and more customised user experience.

Huawei Mate 10 first impressions: ‘intelligent’ phone’s NPU chip can run AI and an internet-free digital assistant

“As we enter the age of intelligence, AI is no longer a virtual concept but something that intertwines with our daily life. AI can enhance user experience, provide valuable services and improve product performance,” Yu said.

Official prices of the Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro are 699 (US$826) and 799 in Europe, compared with starting prices of 799 and 909 for Apple’s latest iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus in Germany. But Huawei’s Porsche Design Mate 10 carries a price tag of €1,395, even higher than Apple X’s starting price of €1,149 in the country.

A look at Honor, the unsung hero that drives Huawei’s rise as world’s No. 2 phone maker

Huawei did not announce official pricing for the Mate 10 series in its home market, but as normal practice Huawei handsets are sold a bit cheaper on the Chinese mainland than in European countries.

“Since Apple and Samsung have both lifted prices for their flagship smartphone models, it also gives Huawei the chance to price higher for its most high-end smartphones,” said Zhao Ziming, a senior analyst at Pintu Tank in Beijing.

Huawei’s Mate 9 handset was the first made by the Chinese company that exceeded the 5,000 yuan (US$760) price tag in China. Huawei’s Mate 10 series is likely to further consolidate the Shenzhen-company’s share in the mid-to-high-end market in the country, said Zhao, who added that the AI features promoted by Huawei might be hard-to-understand for consumers. Plus, the fact that Huawei will be shipping the Mate 10 series in November, the same time as the Apple X, could present a challenge for the Chinese company, Zhao said.

The Mate 10 will definitely help boost Huawei’s shipments but I can’t say that it will directly affect Apple’s share in the high-end market yet
Tay Xiaohan, IDC’s senior market analyst

Huawei first introduced its AI-powered Kirin 970 chip in early September, saying that devices powered by the new chip will be able to truly know and understand their users due to a Neural Processing Unit (NPU) embedded in the processor that can handle AI tasks on the phone itself compared with commonly seen AI features normally dependent on processing in the cloud.

“By combining individual and collective intelligence for on-device AI, the new Mate series delivers real-time responses to users, including AI-powered Real-Time Scene and Object Recognition and an AI Accelerated Translator,” the company said, adding that Kirin 970 is an open, mobile AI computing platform for third parties to create new and imaginative AI applications.

Following the trend of its key rivals, including Apple and Samsung, to lift the quality of screen viewing, Huawei’s Mate 10 series is also an all-glass design featuring a barely-there-bezel, with the entry-level Mate 10 equipped with a 16:9 LCD display and the Mate 10 Pro and special edition’s featuring an 18:9 OLED display.

The new Mate phones will also sport upgraded Leica dual cameras and the latest Android 8 operating system.

“The Mate 10 will definitely help boost Huawei’s shipments but I can’t say that it will directly affect Apple’s share in the high-end market yet. For example, a consumer holding out for the iPhone X will not necessarily turn to the Mate series,” said IDC’s senior market analyst Tay Xiaohan.

“But for consumers who may be slightly more cost conscious and do not want to pay for the iPhone 8, I would say that the Mate 10 is a pretty good deal for what it can offer,” she added.