Huawei: the king of the incremental gain

Despite having some nifty 5G features to shout about, a tsunami of incremental upgrades dominated the launch of the Mate 30 series in Munich.

Many commentators have been suggesting the 5G euphoria will lead the smartphone segment into a new refreshment cycle, however the headlines will likely be dominated by any one of the numerous incremental upgrades Huawei has been boasting about in Germany.

A lack of innovation might be one of the reasons smartphone shipments are decreasing but hasn’t scared the Chinese manufacturer. This device looks to be the same but better than previous iterations, but to be fair to Huawei, there are enough incremental gains to perhaps turn some heads.

Firstly, lets start with the 5G plug. Richard Yu, CEO of the consumer business unit at Huawei, pointed to a few interesting elements of the device. Firstly, Yu is claiming this is the first device on the market which will work with both non-standalone and standalone 5G architectures. To the general consumer, this will mean very little, though it will be of interest to the technology enthusiasts.

“This is not only for today, but to support the community of tomorrow,” Yu said.

Inside the device, Yu has pointed to a total of 21 antennas, 14 of which are 5G. This is an impressive number, especially consider the most any rival has current is 6. With this much antennae technology inside the device, the Mate 30 Pro can support 8 different 5G frequency bands.

Engineering a product of this nature can lead to some serious download speeds. A video was shown demonstrating the device can reach speeds up to 1.5 Gbps. This of course sounds very impressive, and while there is no need for download speeds this high just yet, that will not deter any of the marketers in the technology and telco world.

A final 5G element of the device which is worth paying attention to is the dual SIM capabilities. This is where the technology enthusiasts will also be paying attention, as there is not currently support for VoLTE on 5G. With dual SIM support, one could be a SIM dedicated to 5G data, while the other could be for VoLTE and data on 4G.

What is worth noting is this was a very small part of the overall presentation.

Another element which will surprise few is the omission of Google. It has been widely reported that Huawei is in a tricky situation thanks to the US Entity List, and today confirmed that there will not be any Google apps installed on the device as default. Huawei’s own products will be the default, and Yu has also plugged a $1 billion fund designed to attract app developers to the Huawei ecosystem.

The operating system will be EMUI 9.1, Huawei’s custom mobile operating system that is based on Android 9. Note, this is not the latest version of Android, though this should have perhaps been expected.

This is the biggest challenge which Huawei will face moving forward, a future without Android. Despite all the flashy features, which we are about to discuss, Huawei will have to lure consumers away from the trusted and market-leading Android product, and onto its own, which is based on an older, opensource version of Android.

So, let’s start on the incremental gains this device offers. Despite consumers craving genuine innovation, the mobile industry is yet to be able to offer anything novel. Incremental upgrades have arguably led to longer refreshment cycles for devices, but that has not deterred Huawei here.

The introduction of 5G components will certainly can some attention, though for mass marketing purposes, Huawei needs something ‘sexier’ to talk about, even if these features aren’t really new.

The design of the device has undertaken somewhat of a rethink, with the cameras being shifted towards the centre of the device, making it look more like a traditional camera. The edges are once again rounded off and new materials have been worked into the back cover to reduce ‘slippage’. “Sleek” was the word often used by Yu during the presentation, and if that is your thing, it does look like an attractive device.

The battery is slightly bigger, with the Mate 30 Pro now 4500 mAh. An AI power management feature has been introduced to improve battery life and efficiency. Tweaks have also been made to the wireless charging elements to decrease charging time. These are nice features, but only incremental gains.

Then there is the camera. Much of the advertising will likely be based around the functionality and performance of the camera, so this is an important element. When taking a photo, the shutter button can be moved for personal preference, while there have been gains in the slow-motion features and general performance of the camera. It is a good camera, but again, incremental gains from previous devices.

The gesture control is a very useful perk of the device, a new user interface which will gradually become more apparent as the voice user interface gains more prominence. Smart rotate is another for those who get irritated by the auto-rotate feature. The software has been taught to follow the user’s eyes, meaning the angle of the phone does not necessarily dictate the orientation of the screen. Useful features, but incremental gains.

The multi-screen element is attractive, allowing devices to be more seamless (and wirelessly) linked with PCs, though we suspect all phones will have this functionality in the very near future. The Mate 30 Pro also pays homage to the connected car, with software designed to allow the user to control in-car functionality through the phone. A step-forward to the inter-connected digital economy, but an incremental gain.

There were of course other features, elements and components which we haven’t discussed here, but you get the idea. Incremental gains, not revolutionary strides into the future. The only two aspects which were genuinely new, 5G and the omission of Google, were briefly mentioned or completely ignored.

But then again, enough incremental upgrades could justify the cost if there enough of them. This is perhaps the issue many consumers have been facing over the last few years; do new devices justify the expenditure? Smartphone shipments numbers would suggest not. With the prices of the devices ranging from €799 for the Mate 30, €1199 for the Mate 30 Pro 5G and €2095 for the Porsche designed device, the same question will be asked again.

TIM hits the 5G go-button

Telecom Italia is the latest telco to join the 5G bonanza, announcing launch of its own network in Turin, Naples and Rome.

The launch is limited for the moment, though it seems TIM is confident it can scale very quickly. By the end of the year, an additional six cities (Milan, Bologna, Verona, Florence, Matera and Bari) will be added to the list, as well as 30 tourist destinations, 50 industrial districts and 30 specific projects for big business.

By 2021, TIM has set itself further ambitious targets; coverage for 120 major cities, 200 tourist destinations, 245 industrial districts and 200 specific projects for big business. The dreaded ‘up-to’ metric has also made an appearance, with speeds ‘up to’ 2 Gbps promised by the end of the year, progressing to 10 Gbps by 2021, when it is also promising 22% population coverage for 5G.

What hasn’t been detailed is the number of base stations which will be upgraded to 5G over the coming months and years. It’s all well and good to ‘have’ 5G in Turin, Naples and Rome, but without knowing the number of base stations which are 5G there is little way to gauge the coverage footprint. It might end up meaning very little unless you are stood in the perfect spot just outside the entrance to Vatican City.

Onto pricing, TIM has elected to take the SIM-only approach, with the option to bolt on a subsidised handset as an additional product. For €29.99 a month, users will have a data allowance of 50 GB, with unlimited calls and SMS, while the data pool is increased to 100 GB for €49.99 a month.

Interestingly enough, the most attractive offers which we have seen around the world for 5G have been SIM-only plans. Vodafone in the UK has taken this approach, while T-Mobile US has done the same also. Telcos have wanted to distance themselves from the profit churning subsidised handset model for years and perhaps this is further evidence of this. Whether a SIM-only approach to 5G, with optional bolt-ons for subsidised handsets, becomes a defining trend, only time will tell.

Another excellent move from TIM is the roaming. Although there are few telcos who have announced roaming plans, Vodafone is one of the only ones to do so, TIM has suggested it will offer 5G roaming in six countries, starting within July in Austria, the UK and Switzerland and moving on to Spain, Germany and the UAE soon after.

The announcements are coming think and fast as we move closer to the 5G dream, but this looks like one of the more comprehensive ones to date.

Vodafone ‘rips up the rulebook’ with new 5G pricing model

With EE claiming the ‘first’ accolade many telcos seem to think is critically important, Vodafone needed to do something different to gain attention; this pricing move might well be an important one.

The idea is simple. Instead of tiering pricing plans on monthly data allocations, unlimited data packages can be purchased with tiered limits of speeds. Customers can select the package which is best suited to the way in which they use their devices.

This approach is certainly an interesting one and certainly has the potential to disrupt the status quo. Vodafone is not the telco giant it once was in the UK. It sits third in the market share ranking for mobile subscriptions and is a comfortable distance away from the top two. However, a new approach to pricing might get the team back to its former glory days.

Brand O2 EE Vodafone Three
Market share 36% 33% 20% 11%

Statistics from Ovum’s World Cellular Information Service (WCIS)

With ‘Unlimited’ data plans, the tariffs are designed with 5G in mind. Vodafone UK CEO Nick Jeffrey pointed out that 5G is much more than a smartphone. A tsunami of devices will be connected to the network soon enough, and consumers will be digesting data in new ways; the last thing 5G consumers want to worry about is reaching a monthly data allocation.

“These tariffs are perfect for the over-the-top generation,” said Consumer Director Max Taylor.

Instead of tiering tariffs on consumption allocations each month, customers will be able to subscribe to download speed limits, with unlimited data pools. As you can see below, there are three tiers to take into consideration.

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Taylor suggested each of these tiers have been designed with experience in mind. The slowest, with a maximum speed of 2 Mbps, is for those who do little more than message, browse the internet or distract themselves on social media. The next tier is for those with an average data appetite; 10 Mbps is more than enough to run SD video on the go, while the final tier is for the heavy data consumers, gamers for instance.

Although this is a very interesting approach for Vodafone, what is worth noting is this is not the first time this pricing structure has been used. Elisa in Finland has been tiering its data plans on speed limits for years, but this should not take away from what is a very interesting switch from Vodafone.

“Vodafone’s move into unlimited data and its decision to price 5G the same as 4G indicate the emergence of a challenger mentality,” said Kester Mann of CCS Insight. “This is in sharp contrast to its traditional premium-focussed approach. It could spell bad news for Three, which has built a strategy based on challenging industry norms.”

One party which will not be happy with the news is Three. Over the coming months, the ‘challenger’ telco will be launching its own 5G proposition and we suspect it might be brewing up its own disruption. As Heavy Reading’s Gabriel Brown noted to us at the launch event, such an announcement from Vodafone might ‘steal some of the wind from Three’s sails’.

What is worth noting is the ‘Unlimited’ tariffs will only be available for SIM-only customers. You can see the pricing tiers for subsidized handset contracts at the bottom of the article, there is some opportunity for competitors to undercut Vodafone.

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Finally, Vodafone is taking a page out of the BT playbook by tackling the connected everywhere challenge. In launching its ‘5G Gigacube’ FWA product, the team are also supplying a convergence tariff to allow for seamless connectivity everywhere and anywhere. And for £50 a month, with an Amazon Alexa smart speaker included in the bundle, it is an attractive proposition.

Like Three, Vodafone is looking to challenge the traditional home broadband market. The FWA offering doesn’t need a landline or an engineer to hook-up the equipment, it is a simple and cheap alternative to fixed broadband. With home and mobile broadband, both 4G and 5G, bundled in with an Amazon Alexa for £50 a month, this might turn a few heads.

If Vodafone is to make moves in the UK connectivity market, it needs to do something different. This is what the last couple of years have all been about, turning the oil tanker. It now has a new converged network, Redstream, more legacy IT systems are being switched-off each year, nine more in 2019, and the financials have returned to growth for the first time in five years. When you add in the new pricing model, convergence strategy and innovation hubs to bolster the enterprise business, things are looking positive for Vodafone.

After giving up its market-leading position years ago, Vodafone is starting to look like a business which can challenge at the top of the UK connectivity market once again.

Telenor and PCCW question the need for speed

There are telcos who are rushing to launch 5G services, there are some who simply aren’t ready and there are a few who don’t seem that bothered right now.

During a panel session at 5G World, an interesting point was put forward by both PCCW and Telenor; if you don’t need 5G, why bother rushing to the finish line?

PCCW Group CTO Paul Berriman pointed to the current state-of-play. Data consumption is increasing, though the network is not being strained as it is elsewhere. Hong Kong as an incredibly high penetration in terms of FTTH, so the fixed wireless access usecase falls through. PCCW is also waiting on the release of 3.5 GHz spectrum, which will add impetus to the 5G mission. Right now, Berriman doesn’t feel that compelled to act as the business case is yet to present itself.

Telenor is taking a similar stance, in the sense it is not being rushed. Ingeborg Øfsthus, CTO of Telenor Norway, pointed to the tsunami of unknowns. The maturity of the technology is a worry, as is the development of the business cases. Øfsthus said the team does not have the pull from the verticals to rush a launch, and while there are some interested parties, there would have to be demonstratable scale before they are interested.

Another interesting factor to consider is the disruption to the management of a telco as a business.

“The real challenge for us is to go from 3,000 base stations in Hong Kong to 30,000 base station,” said Berriman. “Going from 4 million smartphones to 40 million connected objects. Going from $20 ARPU to $2. We need to understand the business model behind it.”

The drive towards 5G has been breathless for some, but there are telcos who are waiting for the right conditions before entering the fray; the ‘built it and they will come’ attitude is not being shared by everyone.

“It is early in the cycle, but it is evolving rapidly,” said Channa Seneviratne, Executive Director at Telstra.

Seneviratne suggested Telstra was one of the first companies worldwide to launch 5G, but this was entirely based on circumstance. With 60-70% year-on-year growth on data consumption, Seneviratne couldn’t afford to sit back and wait for the technology to mature or the business case to be fully understood; the demand for capacity-offloading was today.

Another interesting case of rapid deployment is with Elisa. Here, VP Of Telco Efficiency Kirsi Valtari said 5G is absolutely perfect for their business model. Elisa operates slightly differently, selling unlimited tariffs which are tiered on download speeds. The faster download experience you want, the more you pay, but you never run out of data. 5G just allows them to create more products and expand horizons.

While desire for 5G keeps everyone busy assessing who has launched the fastest, it is always worth remembering that sometimes it just isn’t necessary.

Three enters the 5G fracas with FWA offering

Three is promising to launch a 5G home broadband service in London in August, before rolling out the connectivity euphoria for both mobile and broadband in 25 cities by the end of 2019.

With EE and Vodafone already moving through the gears in the 5G race, it was never going to be long before Three made its debut. Initial plans had seen Three as a little big sluggish in the home-straight, though it appears the business is ramping up pretty quickly.

“It’s clear that consumers and businesses want more and more data,” said Three CEO Dave Dyson. “We have the UK’s best network for data and we have led the market on customer usage on both 3G and 4G technologies. We have worked hard over a long period of time to be able to offer the best end to end 5G experience. 5G is a game changer for Three, and of course I am excited that we will be the only operator in the UK who can offer true 5G.”

For the moment, the Three focus is going to be exclusively on fixed wireless access. This should not come as too much of a surprise, Three has been plugging the FWA business case over the last couple of months and it does offer the team new products to shout about. Three is somewhat of a specialist in the disruption game and have been eyeing up the fixed market since its acquisition of UK Broadband in 2017. Most might associate 5G with mobile, but it does present Three with a very interesting opportunity.

“It is the home broadband offering that really catches the eye,” said David Warner of uSwitch. “Until now, much of the discussion of 5G’s arrival has centred on how it will improve mobile connectivity and speeds, but its potential to upend the broadband market, and so quickly, is now being explored by Three.

“Those in areas or buildings without full fibre installed may now be able to choose the convenient option of plugging a 5G router straight into the wall and being online on ultrafast speeds in seconds. By the time full fibre does reach many people – with 2033 still the government’s target for full coverage – they may very well be perfectly happy with 5G mobile broadband connections.

That said, it won’t be long before Three enters the mobile fray. Network tests are currently being undertaken in the likes of London, Cardiff, Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool, all of which will figure into the 25-strong list of cities to get the 5G euphoria before the end of the year. There are a couple of questions which remain however.

Firstly, you have to wonder what devices will be sold through Three tariffs once the mobile products are rolled out to the masses. As it stands, Three has two devices listed on its website. One is the HTC 5G Mobile Smart Hub, and the second, the Huawei Mate X.

While there is a risk associated with the Huawei device, Three has said it will continue to sell the Mate X though consumers will be confronted with warning signs to ensure an informed purchasing decision is made. Both EE and Vodafone have stopped taking pre-orders for the Huawei device, and will not until the OS situation has been cleared up. There are of course other devices on the market, but it does seem the details are yet to be finalised. Three has said these offers will be unveiled closer to the mobile 5G launch date.

Secondly, how will Three approach the pricing conundrum.

Three’s traditional strategy in the UK is to undercut rivals. The team has traditionally targeted those consumers who are heavy data users, and it would be a sensible bet to assume this successful plan will continue into the 5G era, but who knows.

The challenge which consumers are facing at the moment is price. There will be thousands who upgrade as soon as possible, but normal people will look at the price of 5G connectivity (for a decent data bundle) and struggle to justify the additional expense. EE and Vodafone have unveiled their tariffs, and we suspect they are north of where the market will settle.

The question is how much of a challenge to this duo will it present? The conditions are perfectly suited for Three to roll out lower tariffs and disrupt on price once again, but only time will tell as to whether it can justify such a plan considering the expense of deploying 5G networks in the first place.

EE 5G hits the ground running

Sneaking in-front of Vodafone to debut on May 30, EE’s 5G proposition will be launched across six cities in the UK with a range of different devices and interesting bundling options.

While the launch of the network was announced last week, BT Consumer CEO Marc Allera gave much needed colour to the deployment plans at a media event in London and to be fair to BT and EE, it does look pretty impressive.

From today, customers will be able to pre-order bundles from EE as well as choose from multiple devices. The Samsung Galaxy S10 5G will of course be one of the options, though customers will also be privy to exclusive deals with the Samsung Fold, Oppo Reno 5G and the LG V50 ThinkQ, as well as Huawei’s FWA device and the HTC 5G Smart Hub.

While all of the devices certainly promise a lot, the LG approach is perhaps the most interesting. The device itself is pretty much as you would expect, though a separate module is also included, allowing the device to be clipped in to add an extra screen (as you can see below). Head of LG Mobile UK Andrew Coughlin said the product has been designed with multi-taskers in mind, with each screen working independently of the other.

The device also has the potential to open up entirely new experiences when it comes to gaming.

LQ Images

What you will not see over the next few months is a Huawei device launched in partnership with EE. Allera suggested the pause button has been hit on this relationship, due to the difficulties the firm is facing with its Android licence. If EE cannot guarantee performance of the device throughout the customers mobile contract, it will not partner with Huawei.

But onto the launch itself, six cities will experience the 5G euphoria on Day One, with another 10 added to the mix over the remainder of 2019. Building on the already completed work, EE plans to upgrade 100 base stations to 5G a month, taking the total to 1500 by the end of 2019.

“Today is Day One of our 5G journey, we are going to be the first in the UK and one of the first in Europe to bring our customers 5G,” said Allera.

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Always connected is not a new concept from EE, though it would not be a surprise to see the message ramped up over the next couple of months. With 4G, broadband, wifi and, soon enough, 5G, EE has a lot of connectivity assets to shout about. When you combine these different segments with the largest geographical 4G coverage of all the UK MNOs, this is a selling point which would genuinely interest our internet-obsessed society.

That said, advertisements will need a bit of ‘sexing up’ if they are to catch the attention of the mass market.

On the speeds side, it does look like EE will be launching its 5G network with the ambition of reaching 200 Mbps. However, the message will be more focused on reliability and consistent experience as opposed to peak speeds.

“Peak speed might be the headline, but it is not the story,” said Allera.

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Creative tariffs and bundling are where EE might be able to attract the most attention. 5G customers will not only gain access to faster download speeds and more reliable connections but will get the option to choose from various different zero-rating options to make the most of the connectivity euphoria. These options can be swapped out as the customer desires.

Finally, EE will be also be the exclusive partner of Niantec for the highly-anticipated follow-up to Pokemon Go; Harry Potter, Wizards Unite. Although Pokemon Go was a bit of a sham when it came to delivering on a genuine augment reality experience, the Harry Potter game looks much more immersive and truer to the definitions of AR. Considering the popularity of Pokemon Go, Niantec could certainly be onto another winner should it be able to nail the AR experience with this new title.

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What is worth noting, is this is only the first phase of the EE 5G strategy. The aim will be to have 5G present in 50 cities across the UK by this time next year, though in the first phase it will only be in the busiest areas. Although the geographical rollout will be quite limited, 8% of base stations will be 5G, these assets will deliver 25% of the total traffic running across the EE network.

The second phase of the deployment, starting in 2022, will see the rollout of EE’s brand new 5G core, as well as the introduction of new spectrum. This will be when the UK will be able to experience a genuine 5G network, with the prospect of cloud gaming, AR and immersive content living up to the promise. The final phase, 2023, will see the introduction of mission critical applications focusing on the low-latency angle of 5G.

Interestingly enough, despite all the criticism faced by Huawei in the press, EE will be launching its 5G proposition with Huawei at the core of the network. This is unavoidable and will only be temporary, EE will gradually phase out Huawei from the core, but it is a fact which has seemingly been overlooked or cleverly managed out of the public domain by the BT PR team.

5G is about to become very real for the consumer and soon enough there will be a battle between the MNOs to fight for attention. EE and Vodafone might be scrapping for the 5G lead right now, but this approach from EE looks very promising.

Samsung confirms UK launch-date for Galaxy S10 5G

Although it is easy to get lost in the 5G hype, this is an important announcement to take note of; Samsung’s 5G device will be available in the UK from June 7.

According to the latest statistics from Strategy Analytics, Apple is leading the smartphone market share rankings, while Samsung sits in second place. The duo has created a clear gap between everyone else, collecting just over 60% of all smartphone shipments over the final quarter of 2018.

Samsung and Apple are the two most trusted and popular brands in the UK. There might be other 5G smartphone buzz floating through the news, but Samsung has the weight of credibility in the eyes of the UK consumer; people might start paying much more attention to 5G now.

“The Galaxy S10 5G unlocks an entirely new mobile experience to prepare consumers for a world of possibilities: a larger 6.7-inch Dynamic amoled display; a new 3D Depth Camera with Live focus video; and the biggest battery available in the Galaxy S range, the Galaxy S10 5G is a visionary, ultra-premium device for those looking to stay ahead of the curve,” said Kate Beaumont, Director of Innovation, Technology and Services at Samsung.

Featuring enhanced display, upgraded camera features and an improved 4,500mAh3 battery, the traditional play on hardware is present to justify the price, though tribute has been paid towards the usecases of tomorrow. A 3D depth sensor has been introduced for the benefit of augmented reality.

Pricing for the handset has not been released just yet, though customers will be able to pre-order through Samsung experience stores from May 22. The devices will also be made available through EE and Vodafone, the later of which has confirmed the launch of its 5G network on July 3. EE is yet to announce a date to launch its own 5G network, though we suspect the Vodafone news will spur some activity before too long.

Although much of the 5G news will appear as somewhat of a blur for consumers in many markets, this Samsung announcement could cut through the noise. Apple and Samsung hold very trusted positions in the UK and also have the marketing budgets to make an impact. With Apple not launching its own 5G device until 2020, and other available devices having little credibility in the eyes of the consumer, Samsung could make the 5G euphoria real.

What is worth noting is that initial experiences are unlikely to meet the lofty expectations. The device might not be up to scratch, nothing is perfect first time around, while the coverage offered by EE and Vodafone will be incredibly limited. During the first phase of the launch, nine cities will be covered by both of the operators, though this will not be city-wide coverage. The likely scenario is going to be small pockets of busy traffic and transport hubs.

We’ve been waiting for quite a while and now it seems 5G is finally becoming real.

The foldable phone will reportedly be with us next month

It’s been rumoured for months and an ambition of the industry for years, but it seems Samsung is almost ready to unveil a foldable phone in a few weeks times.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Samsung is set to reveal a foldable phone at various launch events around the world on February 20, a week ahead of the industry’s annual bonanza in Barcelona. Traditionally Samsung has launched new flagship devices at Mobile World Congress, but it appears the team is determined to beat Huawei to the punch, with the Chinese also rumoured to be pretty close with their own device.

Although Samsung still claims the number one spot for smartphone sales worldwide, it must be peering over its shoulder with Huawei’s recent momentum. Having overtaken Apple to secure the number two spot, Huawei is certainly on a good run, despite political pressure and suspicion over its relationship with the Chinese government.

A prototype of the device was showcased at a series of events last September, though people familiar with the matter claim three new, foldable devices will be hitting the shelves in March. There is yet to be any form of official confirmation as of yet, though it is also believed a fourth device will follow the initial launch; this model will be 5G compatible.

There are still a lot of questions surrounding the device, but one thing is clear; this is the sort of innovation the industry has been craving for years.

When you look at the reality of smartphones, there hasn’t been any genuine disruption for years. Each new flagship brings incremental advances in features and usability, a better screen or less battery intensive applications for example, but nothing could really be described as ground-breaking, despite what the manufacturers tell you. The last genuine disruption to the smartphone space was probably Apple ditching the keyboard a decade ago.

This stumbling period of innovation is probably one of the factors which contributed to the global slump in smartphone sales in recent years. Despite a lack of new features, manufacturers have been asking consumers to produce more cash, indirectly encouraging trends which have seen product lifecycles and the popularity of second-hand or refurbished phones increase.

Whether the phone will be any good remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, this is a device which will certainly attract attention at Mobile World Congress next month.

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.