Huawei beats Google to AI-powered phone with Honor View 10

Huawei debuted its "AI-powered" phone, the Honor View10 at CES this week which it claims is one of the first to use a Neural Network Processing Unit.

The Chinese smartphone manufacturer claims that this unit, combined with a Kirin 970 chipset, will deliver up to 25 times better performance than non AI-enabled smartphones. 

However, the use of the term "AI-powered" can be confusing as it's used by phones with AI virtual assistants such as Google Assistant and Siri on it. 

It's important to note that Huawei's AI-chip is an entirely new advancement in smartphone technology. 

"These AI-processers are special chips, extra to the main processor that is super-fast at doing neural network and machine learning calculations," Dino Burbidge, director of technology and innovation at WCRS explained. 

The standard up to this point is to have a GPU (general processing unit) but that has reached its max speed possible without overheating. So more 'cores' have been added to enable these processors to do more at the same time, Burbidge continued.

The new AI-processors are neural-network based and can make fast connections and with less reliance on precise, sequential calculations, so the chip can use smaller numbers for the calculations resulting in a significant speed increase.

Now, the truth is Huawei isn't the first to launch a smartphone with one of these intelligent processors installed. Google's Pixel 2 launched with a neural-network based IPU (image processing unit) installed, but it still hasn't been turned on. 

"It's called the Pixel Visual Core and, it's turned off because Google ran out of time at launch and didn’t get the software ready to access its full features," Burbidge said. 

The latest developer preview of Android 8.1 released at the end of November offers early support for the chip, reported TechCrunch. The update is expected to improve the handset's cameras. 

When Google fully turns on the chips, users will see a "massive jump" in the speed of the camera and its effects, Burbidge said. "It’s essentially a dedicated chip with stripped out features but also has visual languages built into it so the processor can process image data super fast. It’s really for images but tantalizingly, it’s also programmable."

Huawei's approach is mostly similar with a slight difference, Burbidge said. Its chip is an NPU (neural processing unit) that, like the Pixel Vissual Core, is a dedicated chip with image code libraries embedded. While it is used for image processing, it's technically accessible for anything else the handset needs doing that can benefit from the power of neural network-type calculations.

So, with an integrated chip that's actually being used by the phone, Huawei is initially "way ahead" of Google, concluded Burbidge. 

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