LIVE FROM CES 2018, LAS VEGAS: Coolpad CEO Jiang Chao (pictured) outlined ambitious plans to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) as the foundation for an effort to raise the company’s status in the US smartphone market.

Speaking with Mobile World Live (MWL) on Monday (8 January), Jiang said Coolpad has its eye on expanding into the post paid smartphone market with a line of mid- and upper-tier devices carried by US operator partners. Those devices will integrate AI capabilities from a new platform Coolpad is building in collaboration with companies including Google and Qualcomm. The AI platform will also serve as the underpinning for the launch of additional devices in the wearables and IoT markets, Jiang said.

“Coolpad used to be known as a low-end brand, but we want to use AI to launch into the high-end market,” he explained.

AI underpinnings
To enable this vision, Jiang told MWL Coolpad is opening an R&D centre in the San Francisco Bay Area in California and is also planning to move its operations division from China to a new US headquarters in San Diego. The company will start with around 30 employees in the R&D facility, who will focus on developing AI technologies, alongside an additional 200 employees at another R&D site in China.

Development will centre on application of voice recognition, face ID and algorithms in four main areas: communication and social media; health and fitness; learning; and gaming. The AI system will be based on Google’s TensorFlow software and run on a chipset from Qualcomm, Coolpad US chief Brandy Kang added.

Employees at the San Diego operations office will enable better support for US operator needs, Jiang said.

Jiang and Kang reported the company is targeting the end of 2018 or early 2019 for the launch of Coolpad’s AI platform. The launch will include the debut of a new flagship device incorporating the platform, they said.

Smartphone ambitions
Kang explained the forthcoming device will be offered unlocked through channel partners and likely cost around $300 to $400 dollars. The first AI-enabled smartphone will be a teaser, essentially meant to prove to potential partners Coolpad has what it takes to run in top-tier rather than budget circles. In time, the pair said Coolpad wants to offer premium devices in the $700 to $800 range directly through all four major US carriers.

To support these devices, Kang indicated Coolpad will ramp its US marketing efforts, including training for sales representatives at channel retailers.

“I think once we build the Coolpad brand in their mind so they understand what it means they’ll have an easier time selling to consumers,” Kang explained.

Kang added Coolpad currently accounts for under two per cent of the US smartphone market share. The company wants to boost the number to between five per cent and six per cent by 2020, he said.

In addition to new flagship devices, Jiang revealed Coolpad will also push into the wearables and IoT markets, with a focus on smartwatches for kids and IoT trackers to monitor the elderly.