Huawei Shine a Light on its Post Google Future

Huawei, Smartphone, Google, Huawei P40, P40 Pro and P40 Pro Plus, COVID-19, International market

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On March the 26th, Huawei, the second largest smartphone manufacturer in the world by volumes, refreshed its flagship smartphone range with the release of the Huawei P40, P40 Pro and P40 Pro Plus. This was the centrepiece of Huawei’s entire product release, but alongside this the vendor also announced the Watch GT2e, the Smart X speaker and a refreshed range of smart eyewear products, as a continuation of its collaboration with Gentle Monster.

Huawei faced significant challenges in 2019, having been one of the most high-profile companies caught up in the Sino-American trade war. Part of this involved Huawei losing access to Google Mobile Services, which includes the Google Play app store and a wide variety of applications therein. There has been much concern around how the vendor would fare in with this new reality, but through 2019 the vendor managed to gain market share through a 28% increase in shipments year-on-year, primarily due to a significant growth in China offsetting headwinds in international markets.

The P40 is the first post-Google flagship handset brought to market by the vendor and it continues Huawei’s strong legacy in imaging, with the P40 Pro Plus offering category leading features such as 10x optical zoom (twice as much as its P30 equivalent), as well as a wide gamut of lenses for different types of photography and cinematography. Perhaps most interestingly, however, is that Huawei have squarely placed the P40 at the heart of its wider IoT strategy, with the release conference highlighting several key features designed to bring the best out of a Huawei ecosystem. Huawei emphasised the fact that its device comes with a multi-device control panel, designed to allow the user to seamlessly interact with their other Huawei devices, and share screens and content between Huawei products.

Underpinning this is the emergence of Huawei’s new virtual assistant, Celia. VA’s have become increasingly ubiquitous within home and personal electronics, and previously Huawei’s use of Android meant that this would be Google Assistant. Since Google is no longer present on Huawei devices, Celia is Huawei’s alternative, and the VA comes with an impressive breadth of features similar to those available on Google. It uses the camera of the handset to analyse what you show it, offers live translation features, as well as the more general personal assistant functions typical of a VA. Available in English, French and Spanish, Celia is Huawei’s international contribution to the VA landscape, alongside its China-only Xiaoyi VA. Compared to Google’s 13 languages and 80 countries, Celia is relatively limited, speaking 3 languages and with an initial launch in 6 countries across Europe and Latin America. This covers around 20% of Huawei’s international market, though an expansion of the VA is expected, especially if Huawei remains unable to access Google Mobile Services.

This is all part of Huawei Mobile Services, the company’s replacement of Google’s ecosystem. In this, Huawei now has a fully functioning app store, available across 170+ countries with a reported 400 million active monthly users and over 1.3 million app developers working on the app library. While there remains some concern around how Huawei will cope in the long run if it remains cut off from Google, and the vendor is certainly not yet clear of US-China geopolitical tensions, it is clear that they are prepared and able to move beyond Google and create their own fully inclusive mobile ecosystem. The smartphone will remain the central pillar to this, but Huawei’s strength is increasingly in its wide portfolio of products; with its own OS and voice assistant, this will all become more tightly integrated, and the vendor will now start competing with Apple and Samsung across all personal devices.

While Covid-19 continues to cause disruption within global economies, Huawei may find global markets are not immediately receptive to its latest line up of devices though, with China seemingly the other side of the pandemic, the vendor may again be relying on its domestic market to provide some much needed momentum in Q2. Globally, the smartphone market is expected to decline in 2020, and this will mean that competition will heighten even further as vendors vie for market share. Nevertheless, having come through a challenging 2019, Huawei are well placed to continue its growth this year.

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