November started with Huawei inviting us, along with a few other publications, across the world to China. Where we would spend some time in both Shenzhen (where their headquarters are located) as well as in Beijing. The main purpose of this trip was to give the media more of an inside look at the company, who is now the largest smartphone manufacturer in China, having recently taken that crown back from the start-up Xiaomi. Many of us forget, or just don’t know, that Huawei does much more than just create smartphones, tablets and wearables. Huawei also manufacturers a lot of the hardware you’ll find on cell towers, not just in China, but in many countries in the world including the US.
Huawei’s campus sits in the suburbs of Shenzhen (and is actually across from Foxconn’s main factory), it occupies about 2.2 square kilometers of land. Huawei’s CEO, Ren Zhengfei, is a big fan of architecture and that is pretty evident by looking at their campus, and driving through it. Huawei has a number of solutions for carriers to help densify their network, including the popular small cells that Verizon have already deployed in a number of markets here in the US, and Sprint is said to be deploying as part of their densification plan. These small cells can be placed on a utility pole, and is much cheaper and easier to roll out then an additional cell tower. We’ve also seen from Philips how they can be integrated into Utility poles. It’s also easier and cheaper to maintain for carriers. Huawei is also one of the leaders when it comes to the adoption of 5G, which we’ll likely be seeing in the next 5 years or so, from carriers in the US. Likely sooner in other parts of the world.
Like many other companies, Huawei is also working on IoT or Internet of Things. However, Huawei is working more on the network side of IoT to allow all of these products to connect to a particular network. As they will all take of space on that network, they need to figure out a way to increase bandwidth, which is part of the reason 5G is on its way very soon. Huawei showed us a demo of the connected world, basically it consisted of a stationary bike, that you can ride and on a big screen, you’re traveling throughout a city. It was very realistic, and could possibly be the future of gaming.
Huawei has a huge portfolio of devices right now. Including the Ascend Y and Ascend G devices, which haven’t made their way into the US. There’s also the P8 and Mate S which were announced this year. Of course, Huawei is very proud of their work with Google on the Nexus 6P. During our time in China, and meeting with various executives there, it was clear that Huawei was, perhaps, more proud of the Nexus 6P than their own devices like the Mate S or the P8. When Eric Fang, who is in charge of the R&D for Huawei Device USA, spoke with us, he did tell us it was his dream to build a Nexus with Google. And he has been overwhelmed with the amazing reviews of the Nexus 6P. He also believed that this partnership is helping to strengthen both the Nexus and Huawei brands all over the world. And he is likely correct.
Fang also noted that it was pretty tough working with Google on the Nexus 6P. As many of us had thought, the hardware isn’t completely up to the manufacturer. It’s mostly up to Google. For Huawei, the two challenges were the short product cycle and targeting the global market. Typically, Huawei has over a year to create a product before it becomes official at a launch event. With the Nexus, there’s much less time, and Google typically wants changes. So you’re having to please two parties. The second challenge was something that Huawei hadn’t faced before. Their products are typically targeted at specific markets. For instance the Mate S is mostly available in Europe, while the Ascend G and Y are for Asia. And when it came to the P8 Lite, there was a different variant made for the US, complete with a separate processor from what Europe got. So targeting the global market was definitely a challenge for Huawei, but they did a fantastic job with the Nexus 6P, as everyone has universally loved the device so far. While talking with us, Fang also said that this was the most challenging project he’s ever been a part of, and he’s been making smartphones for years. Which should tell you something about how difficult the Nexus 6P contract was for Huawei. Fang also said that because of Huawei’s expertise in fingerprint technology, Google learned quite a bit from them. He hinted that was the reason that they were selected, but didn’t come right out and confirm it.
The Kirin 950 was also announced while we were in Beijing, that’s Huawei’s newest chipset which will be powering a few of their flagships, including one that is coming later this year. The Kirin 950 is an octa-core processor, consisting of four Cortex-A72 and four Cortex-A53 cores. During the presentation, Huawei kept showing off how fast the processor is, while only sipping the battery of the device it’s powering. Something we can all appreciate. Huawei has also added in some very cool camera features in the Kirin 950. Unfortunately, we likely won’t see it Stateside – other than from importing a device not sold here – as Huawei is looking to stick with Qualcomm, at least for the foreseeable future. Mostly due to the fact that Qualcomm is already certified with the carriers here in the US for LTE, while their HiSilicon Kirin chipsets are not.
As I stated earlier on, Huawei recently became the number one smartphone manufacturer in China, reclaiming that spot from Xiaomi, and they are aiming to stay there. When asked whether Huawei see’s Xiaomi as a competitor, their answer was quite simple. They only see them as a competitor in China. Outside of China, they feel Xiaomi can’t compete with Huawei. Xiaomi, is really only selling handsets in two markets, India and China. While they have expanded to a few others, including Brazil. Huawei is still in many other countries and regions, and doing well in those regions. Last week, news broke that Huawei is now the second largest manufacturer in Europe. That’s a jump from sixth place the year before. With only Samsung ahead of them, in Europe. Huawei is more focused on competing with Apple and Samsung, than Xiaomi, Motorola/Lenovo, and many of the other manufacturers that are out here making smartphones.
Huawei is a popular smartphone manufacturer, especially outside of the US. But there are two major hurdles here for Huawei, in the US, and one is their name. Many people can’t pronounce their name correctly, and in fact they even told us that was an issue. Of course, all of the US media can pronounce their name perfectly. The other is the stigma of them being a Chinese company, many Americans see these devices as “cheap Android devices”. While, yes the prices are cheap. The build quality, software, and support is about as good as what you’d get from the leading South Korean, and Taiwanese manufacturers. Even the newest Chinese manufacturer, Motorola. Huawei has said that they have thought about doing a rebranding, perhaps to Honor as they have sort have done that in parts of Europe. But they don’t have plans to do that soon, only that it’s been talked about for a few years now.
Like Samsung, Huawei too makes their own processors. And they aren’t cheap, nor poor processors like some might think. The Kirin 950 has yet to be put into a smartphone that is going to be released, but their previous processors like the Kirin 925 and Kirin 930 have performed very well in the Ascend Mate 7 and P8 announced late last year and this year, respectively. Huawei also has the build quality down. Just pick up any of their high-end smartphones – heck even their lower-end and mid-range smartphones feel really good in the hand – and you’ll see just how good they are at making great looking and great feeling devices.
Their only real downside is software. In EMUI, there are some things that need to be fixed. For instance, on the Mate S some notifications are transparent. Making it impossible to read. that is something that definitely needs to be fixed. Huawei did say that if the Nexus 6P sells really well, that they will look at switching to a more Vanilla Android experience here in the US or even just the western markets. As EMUI or Emotion UI was built for the Asian markets, and it does really well with consumers in China, India, Indonesia, etc. Now Huawei didn’t say definitely, that they are switching to stock Android, but that it could be on the table, depending on how well the Nexus 6P does. If they do go Vanilla Android, they will definitely win over the hardcore Android fans, and possibly some of the more casual smartphone users. Which will help them close that gap between them and Samsung or Apple in terms of market share.