Tech Transformers

Huawei launches first smartphone with its own AI chip to challenge Apple's iPhone X

Key Points
  • The Mate 10 series of smartphones includes the Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro
  • Key features include a Leica dual-lens camera and its own AI chip, called the Kirin 970
  • Analysts said Huawei could overtake Apple in market share this year
The Huawei Mate 10 Pro on display during a briefing about the new device in London, U.K.
Arjun Kharpal | CNBC

Huawei launched a new flagship smartphone Monday, the first to contain its own artificial intelligence (AI) chip that could help it compete with Apple and Samsung.

The Huawei Mate 10 series of high-end devices includes the Mate 10, Mate 10 Pro and special edition Porsche Design Mate 10.

Key features include:

  • 5.9-inch display on Mate 10 and six-inch screen on Mate 10 Pro
  • Leica dual-lens camera with color and monochrome sensors
  • Big battery with fast charging capabilities
  • Google's latest Android 8.0 operating system.
Huawei Mate 10 on display during a briefing about the device in London, U.K.
Arjun Kharpal | CNBC

But the top feature Huawei showed off at its launch event in Munich, Germany, is the Kirin 970, the company's dedicated AI chipset in the phone. Huawei launched the Kirin 970 earlier this year, but the Mate 10 series are the first devices to contain the chip.

The chip is the size of a thumbnail and supports on-device AI. That means the AI functions are processed on the smartphone rather than in the cloud, which could speed up processes.

In a demonstration, Huawei showed how its AI could recognize an object that someone wanted to take a picture of and automatically adjust aspects like lighting. This would take a professional a longer time to do, it said.

And the Chinese company claims that its AI can recognize 2005 images per minute.

It said that its Mate 10 series features the first smartphones to offer download speeds of 1.2 gigabits per second. Of course, this relies on a mobile network offering such speeds.

Arjun Kharpal | CNBC

The Huawei Mate 10 will be available from late October in more than 15 countries including Spain, Singapore and Australia, the company said. The Mate 10 Pro will be available from mid-November in over 24 countries, including major markets like Germany and Italy.

The device will not initially be released in the U.S., but CNBC understands that this could happen later down the line.

Huawei catching up to Apple

Smartphone makers are increasingly looking to create their own chips as AI capabilities become more prevalent. Apple, for example, has its own A11 bionic chip in its latest iPhones.

Huawei has moved extremely fast with its phone business, and analysts said the latest devices show it is catching up to market leaders Apple and Samsung.

"The Mate series has been their flagship series, they are trying to bring more AI baked into the phone like what Apple is trying to do with iPhone X," Neil Shah, research director of devices and ecosystems at Counterpoint Research, told CNBC over the phone.

"It shows that the rate of R&D (research and development) and commercialization is very fast, and Huawei has caught up to Apple. Huawei is launching the Mate 10 with AI chip ahead of the iPhone. It is a commendable achievement."

Huawei has priced the Mate 10 at 699 euros ($825) and the Mate 10 Pro at 799 euros ($943) — around the same cost as Apple's iPhone 8 and 8 Plus.

The Chinese company has its sights set on being number one in the smartphone market. It sits fractionally behind Apple in third place in terms of market share, but Francisco Jeronimo, an analyst at market research firm IDC, said Huawei could overtake its U.S. rival in smartphones this year.