Huawei’s search for smartphone differentiation yields rewards

The smartphone market is a very difficult one in which to create any form of differentiation, but Huawei has done a pretty good job with the launch of its new Mate 20 series.

While Samsung and Apple are now leaning towards brand identity and story-telling to attract new customers, a strategy the iLeader is a master of, Huawei is continuing to search for differentiation on the product side. The launch was glitzy, packed to the rafters and full of new features, some of which were genuinely appealing.

“Smartphones are an important entrance to the digital world,” said Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s Consumer business group. “The Huawei Mate 20 series is designed to be the best ‘mate’ of consumers, accompanying and empowering them to enjoy a richer, more fulfilled life with their higher intelligence, unparalleled battery lives and powerful camera performance”

Looking at the features, the devices will be powered by Huawei’s AI chip, the Kirin 980, which incorporates the Cortex-A76-based CPU and Mali-G76 GPU. The promise is a smoother and more powerful experience compared to competitors, with Huawei claiming the CPU is up to 58% more efficient, GPU up 178% more efficient, and the NPU 182%. The devices also includes a 4200mAh battery, with Yu promising 11.21 hours of battery life for heavy users, and the ability to recharge the device to 70% within 30 minutes.

On the camera side, this is an area which will form one of the central marketing pillars for the device and was a big deal in the eyes of Yu. With the incorporation of a 16mm Leica Ultra-wide Angle Lens, the team are boasting about superior wide angle shots, but also numerous other advantages including crisp images of objects that are placed as close as 2.5cm from the lens and AI Portrait Colour video mode. This was a massive deal during the launch so expect photography to feature very heavily in marketing efforts over the coming months.

Audience

While this all sounds promising, this is nothing new compared to the devices of yesteryear, just an upgrade. We’re going to focus on two features which are genuinely interesting.

Looking at the battery, not only will the device introduce wireless charging to the Mate series, Yu introduced the concept of reverse charging. For those who have nervously looked at their devices lurking at 5%, while carefree others prance around north of 80% battery, this could be a very useful feature. Mate 20 devices will be able to act as an energy pack for devices which also support reverse charging. For the moment, we suspect there will be a very small number of compatible devices, but it is a very useful feature.

With the screen reaching the limits of how big it can be, performance speeds only incrementally improving and the camera on every device being top of the range, the battery is an aspect of the phone which could lead to future differentiation. Little progress has been made to improve the battery in recent years, at least little in comparison to other aspects, but the reverse charging feature is certainly a good start.

The second feature which caught our attention was the introduction of EMUI 9, a smart operating system based on Android P. Should it live up to the promise, EMUI 9 can optimise the performance of the phone to the user, introduces new gesture navigation and also unveils a number of new AI features. Some of these applications are quirky, such as the calorie counter, but the 3D Live Object Modelling is very cool.

Using the devices camera, users can scan an object in the digital world, a soft-toy panda was used during the demo, before a digital avatar is created on the device. The avatar can interact with the physical world and also new users which enter the screen. The video below was produced on-stage during the launch. It is genuine augmented reality, not the charlatan created by Pokémon Go. Once created, the avatar will be available to use in films created by the user.

The only downside to all of these wonderful new features is the price. Starting at €800 and heading north for the more advanced models, this is not a cheap device. The Huawei team has already seen what it competitors can get away with and it appears to be following suit. Despite the small mortgage required to purchase the device, this is a pretty good launch and a device which provides some genuine differentiation.

Launch of Note 9 and smart speaker will test power of Samsung’s brand

Samsung has decided to test the loyalty of its fanbase with the launch of its latest smartphone, which is has priced at an eye-watering $1000, while also entering the smart speaker battle with Galaxy Home.

Over the last 12 months, the marketing strategy has changed at Samsung. There has been a notable shift from marketing devices through product-orientated messaging, towards brand-related advertising. This is why Apple has been successful over the years, it has created a legion of iLifers who stick with Apple because they align themselves to the brand, not the products. Now it seems Samsung is testing out how loyal its fan-base is by launched an extortionately expensive device.

Pricing will start at $1,000 for 128 GB version of the device and $1,250 for the 512 GB version. This is a ridiculous amount of storage, while there are also a number of new features. The S Pen is Bluetooth enabled to act as a remote control for the camera and other features, the Note 9’s 4,000mAh battery is largest ever on a flagship Galaxy phone, the camera now includes AI, Dolby speakers are introduced and also features Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor.

It sounds like a good device, but is it worth $1,000? What is actually different from the Note 8?

Its ever so slightly bigger, though ppi (pixels per inch) is ever so slightly down. The camera is exactly the same aside from introduction of dual aperture and AI which supposedly makes pictures better. The memory is substantially larger. The battery is now 4,000 mAh as instead of 3,300 mAh. It is faster thanks to Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon chip. It has been upgraded for Enhanced 4×4 MIMO, not just the bog-standard 4×4 MIMO. And finally, it now has an Intelligent iris scanner, not just a bog standard iris scanner.

We get the impression executives looked at the price of the iPhone X and decided they wanted to do that as well. The upgraded features are all well and good, but that is all they are; upgrades. Again, another flagship has been launched with nothing really new on it. At this price, it will genuinely test out the success of Samsung’s brand advertising campaigns over the last couple of months. Has it done enough to convince fans the brand is attractive enough to part with $1,000?

Another interesting aspect of this launch is the entry into the smart speaker space. This seems like a logical move for an electronics manufacturer who have experience in a broad portfolio of different entertainment products, though Samsung certainly took its time to get here.

What is worth noting is this does seem like a product designed for the fast followers and main-stream adopters of society. The early adopters of smart speakers would have been drawn to the intelligence aspect, the virtual assistants, though Samsung’s device does appear to be designed for those who are after a product for the home first and foremost, with the bonus being intelligence. It’s a strange looking device, but Samsung does have the pedigree in the electronics world and also the Galaxy brand to lean on.

This will be another test for the success of the brand advertising campaigns for Samsung, as the device will be entering into a crowded market. Google and Amazon already have a dominant lead, while Apple has been hoovering up a minor share of the market with its HomePod. As more mainstream brands with a greater focus on audio appear, competition will start to become rife. To secure a solid position, Samsung will have to lean heavily on the power of the Galaxy brand and also the power of its virtual assistant.

This is where Samsung will be going head-to-head with the likes of Google and Amazon. For those who are interested in the intelligence aspect of smart speakers, beyond simplistic functions such as volume control, Bixby will have to prove it is at least as good as Echo and the Google Assistant. With more third-parties set to launch with the option of choosing a personal assistant, the success of Bixby could be a deciding factor when purchasing.

With a flagship device offering little more than a sleeker design and feature upgrades, and a smart speaker entering into an increasingly crowded market, Samsung is relying heavily on the power of its brand and the loyalty of customers. This could be a very interesting or difficult time for the business; only time will tell whether Samsung’s efforts to create an Apple-like following have been successful.

Apple faces US probe after phone slow downs

Apple has confirmed it has been contacted by US agencies over its admission it has been slowing down the performance of older devices.

According to Bloomberg, Apple has been contacted by the US Department of Justice and the SEC which are in the preliminary stages of investigating wrongdoing to any of the claims. This is very much a hushed investigation for the moment and it is not sure what sort of financial penalties, if any, the iLeader would face if found guilty.

It should also be noted that while Apple has confirmed it has been contacted by US agencies, it has not given any specifics. The US Department of Justice and the SEC have only been named by anonymous sources so far.

The question of whether Apple has been slowing down older devices is seemingly a moot point now, it did admit it after all, but what is less clear is whether these agencies believe such activities are justified. Apple might be able to squeeze out of this difficult corner should it be able to convince the unknown agency that the slowdown was for the benefit of user experience overall.

Over the Christmas period Apple came clean over the slow down. It was slowing down the performance of older device as a means of improving battery life and to avoid devices shutting down at random times. Such actions were only used to improve the experience of the device for the consumer and nothing to do with the fact that a clunky devices makes an expensive upgrade more of a necessity for the poor iCultists, who are constantly being bleed dry by the iBoss. Since Apple’s admission of the slow down, it has seemingly gone on the offensive.

“We did say what it was, but I don’t think a lot of people were paying attention,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said to ABC in January. “And maybe we should have been clearer.”

The slow down wasn’t Apple’s fault, but the fault of the user for not paying attention to announcements made by the iMafioso in some obscure communications back-channel. And we thought it was Apple screwing the user, when it is the world screwing Apple.

Such headlines will not be welcomed by Apple executives who are already facing potential legal action in France and Italy for the planned obsolescence claims. Reports also state sales of the iPhone X were lower than expected, though details will be clearer during the company’s earnings call later this week. Although it is too early to tell, entering the smart speaker market late with a device which is amazingly more expensive than anything else on the market, might compound the misery for Apple.

Smartphone thought to be biggest breakthrough in 25 years

New research from TSI has revealed the smartphone is the significant technology breakthrough of the last 25 years.

TSI asked people to share their views on what tech has made the biggest impact since the 1990s, with the smartphone collecting a strong 60% of the vote. Other contenders included the floppy disc and fax machine.

“Despite 35mm cameras and phones with aerials now being referred to as vintage, I can still remember my very first brick-like phone, not to mention the pager, and how innovative it was when first released,” said Steve Kyprianou, MD at TSI

“We’re now on release eight of the iPhone, and the rise of the ‘connected culture’ means we value wider connectivity, super-fast WiFi and instant access to information at our fingertips over work tools such as Microsoft Office and Windows XP.”

While we do not argue about the merits and impact of the smartphone, you have to put the term ‘technology breakthrough’ into perspective. The smartphone is a device of convenience, adding mobility to an euphoria which already existed, the internet.

When you look at the technological breakthroughs of the 20th century, some might argue the smartphone is not as significant. The combustion engine, for example, or ubiqtuous electricity, had profound and life-changing impacts on society. Has the smartphone made the same impact?

Think about it this way, we already had the internet before. The concept of the internet was earth-shattering, it reinvented the way we did business and the way in which we developed our social lives. The smartphone made the internet mobile. We are by no-means undermining the impact it has had on our lives, more offering a bit of perspective. The move to mobile is one of convenience, it a step in the progression of the internet, not anything which was new.

Perhaps we are just on the cusp of what the smart phone can offer. With mobile money trends just starting to grip the mass market and the PC continuing to play less relevance in our lives, the smartphone is becoming more and more critical. Fewer people can look down on those who are glued to the blue screen, as it is becoming a necessity. Perhaps the next significant step in the smartphone space will be when they figure out how to get passports onto the devices?

So maybe this is a question which should be asked to the community; is the smartphone the biggest breakthrough of the last 25 years, and how does it compare to the technological breakthroughs of the early 20th century?