Huawei Smart Speaker with Google Assistant, No More, Due to US Ban
Google Home Style Smart Speaker | Huawei already have Alexa enabled Huawei AI Cube | Project put on hold
Published: 4th Aug 2019
Huawei was reportedly working with Google on an AI-powered smart speaker, but following the May 2019 US ban, the plans had come to a screeching halt.
According to a report by The Information, the new smart speaker would natively support Google Assistant and take voice commands.
Huawei and Google were supposed to unveil it at the Berlin IFA Conference in September this year and subsequently sell it worldwide. For US shoppers, the tech company would sell it on the web.
Huawei Lands a Spot on the Entity List
However, due to a stand-off between Huawei and the US, everything has come to a standstill. US President Donald Trump in May announced trade restrictions against Huawei, leading to the dissolution of the collaborative project.
"We worked on this project with Google for a year and made a lot of progress. Then everything suddenly stopped," said an anonymous Huawei employee, confirming the impact of the ban.
The US added Huawei to the Entity List on May 16, 2019, together with an additional 68 non-US Huawei affiliates.
Per the designation, the US Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) under the Department of Commerce will require an export license for all transfers of items, exports and re-exports to Huawei or any of its affiliates.
Breaking into New Frontiers
With the highly anticipated launch of the Huawei-Google smart speaker, Huawei was seeking to extend its reach in a niche where Amazon and Google are the dominant players.
Notably, the Google Assistant-powered smart speaker is by no means Huawei’s first attempt at finding an entry point into the market.
In 2018, the company announced the launch of an Alexa-powered smart speaker, the AI Cube. The speaker had networking skills integrated and came with a SIM card slot to facilitate a 4G connection.
Announced at IFA 2018, the speaker was designed to double up as a Wi-Fi router and does not rely on a fixed-line broadband connection. Though it allows users to access connectivity anywhere, it is not battery-powered and thus requires a power connection.
Picking up the Pieces
It remains unknown whether the project had reached a level of maturity that could allow them to pick up where they have left off and bring the smart speaker to market.
However, the tech company has expressed conviction that it will continue launching and supporting products.
A Peek into the Entity List
The Entity List is currently more than 270 pages long and it features individuals as well as companies from a wide range of countries. These include China, Russia, Ukraine, Iran and interestingly, even the UK.
Essentially, it contains the names of entities that the US feels pose a national threat. Huawei landed a spot on this list because the US Department of Commerce believes it is “engaged in activities that are contrary to US national security or foreign policy interest.”
Huawei and other companies on the list are barred from carrying out business with US companies.
Though US companies wishing to keep doing business with such entities can seek to license, the licensing review policy is a “presumption of denial.” Basically, this means that a license application is highly unlikely to be granted.
Huawei works with numerous US suppliers for products such as chipmakers (e.g. Qualcomm and Intel) and Google for the Android operating system.
The restriction is not only a loss of the collaborative project on the smart speaker but also a lack of access to critical products as well as services from the US.
For instance, Google has already suspended Huawei’s Android license. Therefore, in the future, the company may have to seek an open-source Android which lacks crucial features.
Business as Usual?
In a bid to reassure its customers in the US, Huawei has tried to maintain a business as usual outlook. However, the news about the shelving of the Google Assistant smart speaker project reawakens concerns about the repercussions of the ban.
Recently though, there seemed to have been a letup from the US, coinciding with ongoing China-US trade talks. But there is yet to be a firm resolution on the matter and for the time being, any company wishing to keep working together with Huawei has to obtain a license.
In the meantime, it appears that Huawei has been preparing for such an eventuality. According to the South China Morning Post, it has reportedly been stockpiling critical components for about a year.
It has also been developing its own chipsets to serve as alternatives to Intel and Qualcomm. Furthermore, it is said to have developed a proprietary operating system for computers and smartphones.