September 3, 2017 12:57 am JST

Huawei hopes AI chipset will give it edge over new iPhone

World's third largest smartphone maker unveils technology at IFA trade show in Berlin

Jason Tan, Contributing writer, and Debby Wu, Nikkei staff writer

© Reuters

TAIPEI -- Chinese smartphone maker Huawei Technologies unveiled its first artificial intelligent smartphone chipset on Saturday as it gears up to compete against the much anticipated launch of a new class of iPhones.

The world's third-largest smartphone maker is hoping that the Kirin 970 AI mobile chipset will lure more buyers to what it calls its most powerful handset yet, the Mate 10, slated for launch in October.

The move comes as this year marks the 10th anniversary of Apple's iPhone, the smartphone that revolutionized the mobile phone market. Apple is expected to unveil a slew of new offerings, including latest the iPhones, on Sept. 12 in the US.

"The Kirin 970 is faster, better and more secure than anything else available [in the market]. This is the latest technology and it is the first chip to have a neural processing unit inside, which is 20 times faster than a central processing unit," said Richard Yu, chief of Huawei's consumer business group, at the IFA consumer electronics trade show in Berlin on Sept. 2.

"It is a major breakthrough for Huawei. We will enable the first use of AI technology in mobile apps, and provide consumers with a never-before-seen AI experience right in the palm of their hands," he added.

The company claimed that mobile devices powered by the Kirin 970 will be able to "truly know and understand their users," supporting real-time image recognition, voice interaction and intelligent photography with ease.

The Kirin 970 integrates 5.5 billion transistors in a single square centimeter, about the size of a thumbnail, which includes an octa-core central processing unit, a 12-core graphics processing unit, a dual image signal processor, a high-speed 1.2Gbps Cat.18 modem, and an AI mobile computing architecture.

A source told the Nikkei Asian Review that the Kirin 970 uses the most advanced 10-nanometer technology from Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co, the world's largest contract chipmaker that is also supplying all the core processors for the upcoming iPhones.

Mark Li, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein, said that Huawei's new chip may be better than the chips for the new iPhone range.

"The new Huawei chip can be 10 times as powerful as an average smartphone chip, and also more energy efficient, when it comes to handling AI-related functions such as image and voice recognition," Li said.

But he said whether the chip, optimized for AI using the same TSMC 10-nanometer technology that Apple will use this year, will become popular depends on whether there will be any killer AI app.

Both Apple and Huawei are expected to offer face recognition among other new features with their new phones.

Huawei has set a modest target to ship between 140 million and 150 million smartphones in 2017, up marginally from 139 million in 2016. Apple sold 215 million iPhones last year.

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