The "Hey, Celia" message.

Siri, Google Assistant, Bixby, Cortana, Alexa, and now, Celia. Yes, there’s yet another voice assistant on the market thanks to Huawei. But what sets Celia apart from the competition, and what does it mean for the wider voice-assistant ecosystem?

Hey, Celia

Huawei first announced Celia in late March 2020. The feature was part of its EMUI 10.1 software, which debuted on its P40 Pro flagship phone running Android the following month. At a basic level, it replicates much of the functionality of other assistants.

To wake it, you simply say, “Hey Celia.” You can also double-tap the power button. Celia’s then ready to process your request. Like its more established rivals, you can also set alarms, send text messages, check the weather, and so on.

A calendar alert from Celia.

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

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

According to a Huawei company representative we spoke to last year, this tech is so precisely tuned, it can even recognize several dog breeds. So, it’s hardly surprising Huawei decided to emphasize it in its new AI assistant technology.

Celia is based on Xiaoyi (not to be confused with XiaoYi cameras or phone manufacturer, Xiaomi), Huawei’s existing voice assistant, which was released to the Chinese market in 2018. This prompted a flurry of rumors that Huawei would imminently release an alternative to the incumbent assistants, which finally came to fruition earlier this year.

How to Get Celia

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

So far, Huawei has opted to release Celia in just a handful of markets (the U.K., Spain, France, South Africa, and several Latin American nations). It supports English, French, and Spanish.

You might have to manually activate Celia to get it to work. To do so, head to Settings > Huawei Assistant > AI Voice. Then, tap “Voice Wakeup” and set it to “On,” and do the same for “Wake with Power Button.”

The Huawei "AI Voice" menu.

Meet Huawei

Huawei isn’t particularly well-known in the U.S. Elsewhere, though, it was once an imposing figure on the smartphone market, offering stiff competition to the likes of Samsung and Apple.

During the first quarter of 2019, Huawei accounted for 26 percent 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 grown to 41 percent.

Huawei also runs a brisk trade in networking equipment, which powers cellular and broadband networks in many countries.

In May 2019, the Trump administration placed Huawei and its associated subsidiaries on a Department of the Treasury Department entity list. This effectively prohibits U.S.-based companies from trading with the embattled Chinese firm without permission.

As a result, newer phones from Huawei have shipped with the open-source version of Android, without Google’s proprietary extras. That means no Google Play Store, YouTube, Gmail, or Google Assistant.

It looks like this conflict with the U.S. government will continue into the coming months—if not years. This has prompted Huawei to replace as much of Google’s ecosystem with its own alternatives as quickly as possible. Given this, it’s no surprise Huawei is also working on a new operating system called Harmony OS.

At the core of Huawei’s Android ecosystem is Huawei Mobile Services. This includes a set of application programming interfaces (API) to handle things like DRM, authentication, and in-app purchases. On top of all that, Huawei also has its own application store, the Huawei AppGallery.

The Huawei AppGallery.

At this writing, though, the AppGallery is a barren experience. It’s missing many of the apps you’d likely consider essential. For example, there are scarcely any banking or finance apps. Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp are also conspicuously absent.

Huawei has, however, managed to score some early wins, as Snapchat and various Microsoft and Amazon apps are available in the AppGallery. It also has Here WeGo, a mapping app that formerly shipped with Nokia’s Windows Phones and is one of the most popular independent options.

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

RELATED: What Is Harmony OS? Huawei's New Operating System Explained

Profile Photo for Matthew Hughes Matthew Hughes
Matthew Hughes is a reporter for The Register, where he covers mobile hardware and other consumer technology. He has also written for The Next Web, The Daily Beast, Gizmodo UK, The Daily Dot, and more.
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