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Huawei balances smartphone market desires with AI appreciation

Huawei balances smartphone market desires with AI appreciation

Multinational ICT firm Huawei says by year end, it would have spent US$14bn on R&D across all its business groups. This reflects the company's determination to dominate key markets, especially the uber-competitive global consumer smartphone space - and Africa will play an important role in the strategy.

The research and development is tightly connected to the recently launched innovation and experience centre, the first in the continent, which is the front-line of Huawei's technology rollout and customer interaction for industry stakeholders.

Likun Zhao, GM Huawei Consumer Business Group SA, says the smartphone strategy for Africa will focus on entry level to high-end, although the latter is its first priority.

While it will help Africa carriers migrate from 2G and 3G to 4G, the company will not produce low-end devices because it does not want to sacrifice the quality of its product says Zhao.

Another core component of the strategy is the positioning of South Africa as the main base from which to drive operations into the continent.

According to Zhao the company is the second largest tier 1 premium smartphone manufacturer in South Africa, in terms of value and volume share.

The 2017 H1 GFK report positions Huawei at number 2 in the Middle East & Africa region in terms of sales volume with 13.8% market share.

"Africa has great potential in terms of implementing innovative ideas and thinking. We see South Africa as a key market to drive this," Zhao adds.

At the same time the company also names Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia as key target markets, with the objective to rejuvenate its Y-Series devices.

If South Africa is the driver in this strategy, then AI is the fuel and Zhao confirms the launch of new flagship devices (the Mate 10 & Mate 10 pro) on 16 October in Germany, featuring support for Android AI, API and HiAI API.

"Third party resources will be able to be developed through mobile AI applications through the open API interface for voice, image, video, text artificial intelligent application. We will encourage more African partners and developers to create the innovative AI applications for catching the new business," he continues.

It speaks to the company's overall short-term mission statement, which is to facilitate and leverage the change from smart devices to higher level intelligent product powered by AI.

This mission will encounter an early test with the integration of the Kirin 970 chipset, which Huawei says is the first with a dedicated NPU (Neural Processing Unit).

"Machines have been getting faster and more powerful over time, however they lacked a brain to co-ordinate the tasks and become more efficient. The NPU is the brain powering the Kirin 970 and brings the speed and responsiveness of native AI processing to our consumers," says Zhao.

The chipset combines the power of the cloud with the speed and responsiveness of native AI processing.

It is positioned as an open platform for mobile AI, and the company aims to draw in the participation and collaboration of hardware and software developers to streamline AI into the user experience.

"For AI to reach its true potential, it requires the broad application of cloud based AI combined with the processing power and stability of hardware AI to become more cognitive of user needs and provide personalised and easily accessible services. This will also require a joint effort across the value chain of hardware and software developers as well as the user experience feedback of users," Zhao adds.

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