As Huawei waits to see whether Donald Trump’s departure will signal a change of fortune for its embattled smartphone business, it has launched a new strike against its Android partners, praising Apple’s iPhone as “the world’s best” 5G phone and talking up the quality of its technology for iphone-12 users.
Before its brutal dismantling by Trump’s blacklist, Huawei had built an Android powerhouse, ascending the smartphone league table, challenging Samsung for its long held top spot, even taking over for a few months last year. But the reality is that Huawei never looked to Samsung for its inspiration, its eyes have always been on Cupertino instead.
I have argued for some time that Huawei’s strategy, its keenness to control both its software ecosystem and hardware is much more akin to Apple than anything on the Android side of the house. This was confirmed last year, when the company’s UK. consumer boss told me that “we are one of only two companies globally that can have this hardware and software solution for our own ecosystem… Only Huawei and Apple can do this—it’s our long-term strategy.”
Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei has openly admitted that Apple is his inspiration, telling the media in 2019 that “Apple is the world’s leading company… Apple is my teacher; it is advancing in front of us.” And so, it’s hardly surprising that Ren and his daughter, Meng Wanzhou, are both Apple users. In fact, Meng’s Apple MacBook, iPad and iPhone were all seized when she was arrested in Canada in 2018, and have figured in the ongoing legal battle as to the means by which the passcodes were secured.
Huawei is now at a crossroads. Having divested Honor, speculation has mounted as to whether its flagship Mate and P-Series devices will follow. “Our shipments of high-end phones have declined because of lack of chip supply,” Ren acknowledged this week. It was this last expansion of U.S. sanctions, to cut the company’s silicon supply chain, that decimated its consumer business, dropping it down that smartphone league table.
And so to this week, and Ren’s surprising lauding of Apple’s iPhone as the best device of its kind, inferring it to be ahead of its Android alternatives. One can’t imagine this landing well with the likes of Samsung or Google.
Talking up the quality of Huawei’s 5G networks, Ren used Apple to make his point. “We support the progress made by Apple‘s iphone-12,” he said, ‘[which] has been able to achieve download speeds of 1.82 Gbps, making it the best in the world… We helped build the best 5G networks in many cities around the world: Berlin, Munich, Madrid, Zurich, Geneva, Amsterdam, Vienna, Barcelona, Seoul, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Riyadh… Our networks in Europe top global network performance tests.”
Ren also complimented Apple on its dominance of the “high-end” sector, arguing that his network equipment was a good thing for iPhone users and could sway opinion on Huawei after a tumultuous 2 years in the headlines.
“Many high-end device users in Europe use iPhones,” he said, “and the way those phones operate on our networks in Europe actually is a sign we are also doing well. The fact high-end users can use the iphone-12 to its fullest effect on our 5G networks in Europe is a testament to the quality of our networks. This is helping balance opinions towards Huawei in Europe.”
There was a logic to Zhang’s comments last year, that “there are only two big players with ecosystems,” he said, “Apple and Google. It will not be a problem to have a third one. In any industry, three top players is reasonable.” Since then, Huawei has more fully launched HarmonyOS, with an open-source work-around to its potential inability to craft its own premium smartphones once its chipset stores deplete. But the strategy itself puts Huawei smartphones at the center of an IoT web, in what seems to me to be very much a be like Apple approach.
But for a smartphone maker to suddenly single out the iPhone as an exemplar as to why Huawei’s 5G networks deliver class-leading speeds is more of a surprise.
Everything remains up in the air for Huawei right now, rather like the battered aeroplane that it used as an analogy for its business last year. But there may be a surprise in store for Huawei watchers. Huawei’s financial numbers are not due for some weeks, but reports in China this week, citing unaudited, unconfirmed, internal numbers, suggest “revenue [for 2020] of US$136.7 billion, an increase of 11.2%, and its profit was US$9.9 billion, an increase of 10.4%.”
If true, that would be an astonishing result given the increasing U.S. stranglehold on the business and the impact this is now taking on the highly profitable smartphone business. “Our sales revenue and profits in 2020 were higher than last year’s.” Ren told the media this week, adding that “I am even more confident about Huawei’s survival than I was.” That last point is clearly helped by Trump’s departure.
In the new, post-Trump world, Huawei is now talking up the scale of its global 5G presence once again. “Huawei has undertaken hundreds of 5G networks worldwide,” the company announced last week. “According to the results of 5G network experience test in global major cities conducted by many third-party organizations around the world, in cities such as Seoul, Amsterdam, Madrid, Zurich, Hong Kong, and Riyadh, Huawei’s contracted operators ranked number one in 5G network experience.”
Good news for all those iphone-12 users, it seems.