Baidu partners with Lenovo in third China AI smartphone deal

By Thomson Reuters Feb 8, 2024 | 11:48 PM

By Josh Ye

HONG KONG (Reuters) – China’s Baidu has partnered with Lenovo to feature its generative artificial intelligence (AI) technology on Lenovo’s smartphones, in the latest team up with a phone manufacturer as it seeks practical applications for its AI model.

A spokesperson for Beijing-based Baidu told Reuters this week that the partnership involves Lenovo using its Ernie large language model (LLM) and is similar to collaborations with Samsung and Honor announced last month.

Lenovo sells its own branded phones and also owns the phone brand Motorola. Ernie is already embedded in the browser and app store apps of Lenovo’s personal computers and tablets.

Lenovo did not respond to a request for comment.

Selling smartphones that offer generative AI features for services such as chatbots and real-time translation have become a new global trend after the technology became popularized in late 2022 with the launch of ChatGPT.

Google is seen to be a leader in AI smartphones with its Pixel phones and robust cloud-based AI while Apple has been reported to be working to bring generative AI models to the iPhone.

Research firm Canalys expects that 5% of smartphones shipped globally in 2024, or 60 million devices, will be AI-capable smartphones.

But AI services powered by U.S. firms like ChatGPT maker OpenAI and Google are unavailable in China, leaving the market to Chinese firms. The Chinese market has now over 200 AI models on offer, including from Baidu’s chief rivals Alibaba and Tencent.

Baidu CEO Robin Li said last November that firms now needed to focus on developing practical applications. China’s top phone brands including Vivo, Xiaomi and Huawei are also working on their own on-device AI models but have not disclosed details.

Such smartphone collaborations could not only help Baidu in this arena, but having its AI features deeply bundled with smartphones could also give the company exposure to a vast amount of data which could help Baidu’s LLM catch up to rival AI companies in the U.S.

“Adapting LLM on smartphones is the right moment to promote AI-powered features, although they may be limited now. In the long run, they may become a ‘must-have’,” said Ivan Lam, an analyst at research firm Counterpoint.

(Reporting by Josh Ye; Editing by Brenda Goh and Christian Schmollinger)