If you're used to the Apple/Samsung duopoly as it exists in the U.S. right now — sure, with a bit of LG and Motorola thrown in — then it might be a surprise to learn that Huawei is a major force in the UK market. The Chinese manufacturer has slowly but surely been building its presence across the four major network operators, all of which carry its new P10 phone. (The larger P10 Plus has three of four onboard.)
That vital shelf space will play an important part in building not just sales, but brand awareness. While Huawei has used partnerships with big-name brands like Leica and Porsche Design to build a halo effect around its phones, the proportion of Brits who recognize (and can successfully pronounce) the name Huawei is nowhere near the likes of a Samsung or LG.
One Huawei representative remarked to me ahead of the P10 launch that the removal of front-facing branding from that phone was partly to counter customers pre-judging a product with an unfamiliar brand name. There's still a Huawei logo around the back, but it's not the very first thing you see. Instead, you see a premium handset, then associate it with the Huawei brand when you look a little closer. At least, that's the idea.
Huawei expects to ship 10 million P10s in the short term. That's not GS8 numbers, but it's a start.
Despite its flat profits in 2016, the world's number-three smartphone maker enjoyed strong sales in its P9 and Mate 9 series. It's been reported that the short-term goal for the P10 is to sell 10 million units. That's nowhere near the 40 million projected for the Galaxy S8, but then again we're talking globally here, and Huawei remains basically a non-presence in the U.S. market.
In the UK, and Europe generally, competition between the two is a little closer. It's way too early to judge the success of the P10 — or the GS8 for that matter — but Huawei's phones are displayed prominently on the major operators websites, and in brick-and-mortar stores. The fact that Huawei is back for a second round of flagship devices across all the major networks suggests that UK P9 sales should have (at least) met expectations. This year, Huawei has the advantage of its software no longer being gross and broken — EMUI 5.1 is fast, stable and way less obtrusive than earlier versions.
Huawei hasn't deployed the same massive marketing resources that Samsung has put behind the Galaxy S8 — but Samsung is pretty much unique in the amount of overt pomp, ceremony and advertising that accompanies its phone launches. And Huawei is targeting price tiers £100-200 below the Galaxy S8 and S8+, wit the smaller P10 selling for £550 unlocked, and its big brother going for £650. (With more RAM and internal storage, by the way.)
Priced as they are, the P10 phones aren't really directly competing with the GS8.
Huawei's pricing is competitive and realistic. Physically speaking, its phones are more in line with Apple's 2016 iPhones than the bezel-less, futuristic creations we've seen from Samsung. And then there's the whole brand value angle — Samsung has established itself as a brand worth of very expensive purchase in a way Huawei hasn't quite managed yet.
Speaking in London ahead of the P10 launch, Bruce Lee, Huawei's head of handset product line, told me that he expected slim bezels and taller aspect ratios to be one of the major trends of the year, but couldn't comment on any plans Huawei might have for such a device. Reading between the lines, I wouldn't be at all surprised if something was on the cards for later this year or early next year. (Lee also told me that he expects the Mate "Pro" series — a line kicked off with the Mate 9 Pro in 2016, with a curved screen and a smaller form factor to continue. A Mate 10 Pro would be a natural candidate for Huawei's first foray into bezel-less phones.)
New Mate phones might stand a better chance of going head-to-head with Samsung in terms of pricing, form factor and feature set. As for the P10, all signs suggest it'll be a solid seller for Huawei, undercutting its Korean rival on price while, on paper, beating it in key specs in the UK market. Here, Huawei's more immediate competitors are LG and Sony — established names operating in the same price bracket.
Nevertheless, Huawei's growth has outpaced just about all its Android rivals over the past couple of years, and the next 12 months are sure to bring some fascinating developments.
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