Honor's relationship with Huawei will soon bring huge software benefits — but it's unclear how a more fleshed-out Honor lineup might coexist with the parent brand.
At a recent event in China, Honor Vice President George Zhao announced that the Honor 8 had passed 1.5 million units sold in just two months. The phone went on sale first in China in July, before arriving in the West less than a month ago. Underscoring the rapid growth of Huawei's online-centric brand, Zhao also revealed that 100 million Honor phones had been sold in total throughout the brand's 999-day history.
Those are two big milestones, but the early success of the Honor 8 in particular stands out — surely helped along by Honor's more established presence in Europe these days, and the overall quality of the product.
Honor owes a lot of that to Huawei. Beneath its ridiculously reflective exterior, the Honor 8 is basically a Huawei P9. And this year's Honor phones have benefitted from the vast improvements in the company's EMUI software, which is more usable than ever.
And on the software side, things are about to get a lot better. EMUI 4.1 still has some nagging issues, mainly to do with the way background apps, notifications and app-switching are handled. What little we've seen of the upcoming EMUI 5, based on Android Nougat, gives us hope that these last vestiges of Huawei weirdness are going away, replaced by an altogether more Western-friendly UI. The leaked EMUI 5 build we've seen running on the Huawei P9 has stock Android-style notifications and task-switching UI — finally — alongside other visual tweaks.
These are big, important change that'll make all Huawei — and by extension, Honor — phones more appealing to phone buyers in the West. As things stand, software is still Huawei's biggest weakness. When EMUI 5 lands, and that's no longer the case, expect adoring praise from the tech press to bolster sales of Huawei phones among enthusiasts.
As we discussed a few months back, it's partly thanks to Huawei's new focus on software design, led by a big new hire:
[EMUI 5] will be the first chance we get to see the work of former Apple creative director Abigail Brody, who Huawei hired in September 2015 to oversee user experience, building a team out of its newly established San Francisco design center. That in itself should tell you how serious Huawei is about software design [...]
A more streamlined, Googley Huawei UX layer should also help the company push out Android updates faster — like many phone makers, Huawei has struggled to push out new versions in a timely manner. In a recent interview, Huawei smartphone chief Changzhu Li revealed that the company has set a two-month target for updating its phones in future. Sure, it's one thing to set such a target and another to achieve it, especially with carrier certification and other hoops to jump through.
Next-gen Honor phones should get all the EMUI 5 goodies as standard.
The next generation of Honor phones should get all this stuff as standard. (And the current ones, when they're updated, will get much better too.) Honor's phones have always been about higher-end hardware than you'd expect at a lower price point than you'd anticipate — with the caveat that the software's a bit weird. When the one major catch next to any Honor phone purchase goes away, expect sales to rise accordingly.
However the Huawei angle also presents some challenges. The parent brand has a more fleshed-out phone lineup than ever before, particularly in Europe. There's the Mate and "P" lines at the high end, and the new Nova in the middle. There's already a bit of crossover between Nova and Honor, with similar price points getting you either superior build and battery life (in the Nova and Nova Plus) or flashier specs and design (in the Honor 8).
But the real conundrum is between the Huawei P9 and the Honor 8. On the inside they're basically the same phone. Sure, distribution channels are different — the Huawei phone lives within the traditional carrier system, the Honor phone is sold mainly online. (That's to say nothing of the visual differences that speak to each brand's image.) But Huawei is increasingly competing with itself in this space, and it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the Honor 8 may erode European P9 sales in the longterm. If the same happens with next year's P10 and Honor 9, it may be time to further differentiate the two lines' hardware.
However things pan out, 2017 is sure to be an interesting year for both Huawei brands, with plenty of momentum and important new software changes.
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