Huawei taps Alexa as it targets U.S. smartphone market

Huawei's Mate 9. (Image: Huawei)

Huawei is aiming to take on Apple and Samsung in the U.S. with the world’s first smartphone to be integrated with Amazon’s Alexa.

The Chinese manufacturer and telecom gear vendor used CES’s stage this week to take the wraps off its Mate 9, which launched today in the U.S. The $600 phone features a 5.9-inch display and is powered by Huawei’s own Kirin 960 processor, and is also designed to support Daydream, Google’s virtual reality platform.

Alexa, which is Amazon’s alternative to artificial intelligence assistants such as Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant, will be available for the device in the next few weeks. The app will be pushed to Mate 9 owners via an over-the-air update once it becomes available.

"With Mate 9, we set out to improve every element of the smartphone experience, creating a dynamic and powerful device that takes a big step forward in what consumers expect in a smartphone,” said Zhendong Zhu, president of Huawei’s U.S. devices business, in a prepared statement. “We're excited to introduce the Mate 9 flagship device to the U.S. market."

Indeed, the phonewhich has already come to market in Europe and elsewherehas garnered solid reviews. And its attractive price is also an edge for Huawei, which has been vocal about its goal of overtaking both Apple and Samsung to become the world’s largest handset vendor.

Huawei still faces huge challenges in the U.S., though, due to a lack of support from major carriers. The Mate 9 will be available through Best Buy, and some smaller outlets, but so far, at least, it doesn’t appear to be offered by the mobile network operators that control a whopping 85% of smartphone sales in America.

“We doubt the unlocked market is poised for much growth outside of Apple,” BayStreet’s Cliff Maldonado told FierceWireless last year. “The carriers offer too much value in their ‘showroom’ stores.”

Huawei continues to gain ground on its two bigger rivals, claiming 9% of worldwide smartphone shipments in the third quarter of 2016, according to Strategy Analytics. Whether it can break into the top two without forging a solid relationship with at least one major U.S. operator is far from clear, though.