Huawei have long since shed the perception of ‘copycat China,’ which overshadowed its early years as a smartphone vendor, and in recent years the company has enjoyed enviable growth to become one of the world’s top vendors of smartphone, competing with both Apple and Samsung for market share. Much of this growth has come as a result of some impressive innovation, and the announcement of the P30 series is another example of Huawei’s transformation from market follower to market shaper. Here, Futuresource shares our thoughts on the implications and impact of Huawei’s latest flagship for the smartphone market.
In many ways, the P30 announcement was ‘business as usual’ for the smartphone landscape at large, with the prohibitive price tag of 5G and foldable phones (such as the Mate X) dulling consumer expectation and media hype since MWC 2019. The major product features of the P30 are an extension of the trends that have been ubiquitous within smartphones for several years and are indicative of the growing homogeneity of handsets that is likely to remain in the industry for the immediate future.
This should not, however, be seen as a comment that detracts from the innovation and quality that looks to have gone into Huawei’s latest flagship. Indeed, in an industry where vendors often struggle to differentiate their products from their rivals, Huawei seem to have taken the same trends and taken them further. The first example of this is the push for greater screen-to-body ratio driven by shrinking bezels and smaller notches. With a 4.17mm bezel, Huawei’s screen-to-body ratio is being pushed to its maximum; combined with a small notch, in-screen fingerprint, and in-screen acoustics in lieu of a speaker, Huawei have taken this ‘meta-trend’ and advanced it further. Of course, with the speaker embedded in the screen, the audio experience of the phone is likely to be somewhat diminished – though Huawei’s announcement of the Freelace (wireless) and Freebud (True wireless) headphones is undoubtedly an effort to counterbalance this potential shortcoming.
The main feature that continues to differentiate Huawei from its competitors is the quality of photography, with the partnership between Huawei and Leica proving to be continually fruitful. The smartphone camera has been an omni-present feature of the device for over a decade and is arguably the single most important feature for consumers. This is one area in which Huawei are considered industry leaders, and the P30 & P30 Pro continue this legacy. The P30 Pro in particular is the first quad camera smartphone that offers 5x optical zoom with a periscope lens, both a wide and ultra-wide-angle lens, and a Time-of-Flight depth sensing lens that facilitates features such as retrospective background blur control. Combined with colour, temperature and flicker sensors, the P30 series is capable of producing sharp long-distance or night images that set a new industry standard. This is in many ways also due to the impressively innovative RYYB (Red, Yellow, Yellow, Blue) sensor that displaces the traditional RGGB (Red, Green, Green, Blue) sensors which have dominated photography for decades. This new sensor allows yellow light to be filtered through the lens, giving 40% more light; this not only advances smartphone photography, but advances photography full stop. While the level of control over a photo that the P30 grants consumers is in many ways above and beyond what the average consumer needs, it does lend itself to the development of the ‘pro-sumer’ market for professional video and photography. Smartphone’s have been responsible for the decline of consumer camera sales, and now, with Huawei leading the way to even more advanced photography, may well begin to erode sales of lower-end professional photography equipment, such as Interchangeable Lens cameras. One episode of Jimmy Fallon’s ‘The Tonight Show’ was shot on a Galaxy S10+, which already indicates a movement towards mobile devices for professional use.
One final feature of the P30 range is Huawei’s laudable efforts in seeking to develop socially beneficial functionalities. Huawei claim that the Kirin 980 chip that will power the ‘Track.AI’ app can help physicians make real-time diagnosis of visual impairment within children due to accurate eye-movement tracking that traces underlying pathologies and limitations indicative of visual issues. This is an extension of the medical service offered by Huawei’s ‘Story Sign’, a live translate feature that translates children’s books into sign language for hearing-impaired children. AI is still developing and being refined by all smartphone vendors, and while Huawei claim that some of its functionalities are driven by AI, it is more likely that these features rely on computational imaging and ‘applied intelligence’ rather than the active learning required by AI. Nonetheless, these uses presented by Huawei are an interesting attempt at taking ‘AI’ away from the internal mechanisms of the phone and placing it at the forefront of the consumer engagement with the device.
Ultimately, as mentioned, the smartphone industry is broadly defined by homogenous devices with minor distinctions between handsets. In this context, even marginal gains can often reap significant rewards for vendors. Huawei’s developments in its flagship certainly exceed ‘marginal’ and are a genuinely impressive product of innovation. Huawei have laid down a gauntlet, and it is now up to its rivals to respond.
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