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Huawei was working on a Google Assistant smart speaker before Trump ban

Huawei was working on a Google Assistant smart speaker before Trump ban


US trade restrictions against Huawei doomed the speaker project

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Huawei was planning to follow other tech giants in releasing a smart speaker, according to The Information, but then the US government threw the company’s software partnership with Google into disarray. Like Google’s own Home speakers, Huawei’s was to be powered by the Google Assistant and respond to customer voice commands. The plan was to announce the Huawei-branded speaker at this year’s IFA conference in Berlin and sell it globally, with Huawei selling it on the web to US shoppers.

But when US president Donald Trump imposed trade restrictions against Huawei in May, the speaker collaboration with Google quickly dissolved.

Manufacturers of these smart speakers, including Amazon, Apple, Google, and others, are increasingly being taken to task over the sensitive conversations and data their voice assistants can collect. Reports over the last several months have made clear how often our exchanges with Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri are reviewed by human employees in an effort to improve accuracy and provide better responses.

Huawei releasing a consumer speaker would have only ratcheted up those concerns and amplified the possibility of the Chinese government using Huawei’s devices for surveillance purposes. A smartphone ultimately holds far more information about you — and Huawei already makes plenty of excellent phones — but we’re in a moment where the always-listening nature of smart speakers has struck a nerve with consumers who are wary of Big Tech and the potential for total strangers listening to their home conversations.

The Information says that the shelved speaker “shows that [Google and Huawei] were even closer than previously understood,” but that point is up for debate. Huawei has steadfastly churned out devices running Google software over the last several years and dating back to the Nexus days, from phones to Wear OS smartwatches; these two companies were always close before US suspicions about Huawei suddenly divorced them and forced Huawei into using the open-source version of Android, which lacks the Google apps and services that many people outside China consider critical.