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.