Huawei, Blackberry - and the battle for third place


Chinese company Huawei claims its new product is "the world's fastest smartphone"

In a baroque palace near the Barcelona seafront, hundreds gathered to sip wine, eat tapas - and watch what could be the next superpower of the mobile phone industry unveil its latest product. And if I were an executive at Blackberry or Nokia who had sneaked into the Huawei event at Mobile World Congress, I might have sleepless nights about the threat to my business from the fast-growing Chinese company.

While Samsung and Apple have run away into the distance in the smartphone race, with 52% of the market between them in the last quarter of 2012, the rest are scrapping for third place. And who managed to sneak ahead of the likes of Nokia, Blackberry and HTC? Huawei, the telecoms infrastructure giant - virtually unknown as a phone brand in many parts of the world.

The company knows that may change next quarter as the jostling for the number three spot gets more intense. But the scale and tone of its Barcelona event underlines its ambitions. The phone unveiled - the Ascend P2 - looked much like any other high-end device on the market, though the company made big claims about its capabilities. It is apparently now the fastest 4G smartphone on the market, capable of supporting download speeds of up to 150Mbps.

That will be nice when the networks capable of delivering those speeds are up and running - but I'm sceptical about whether "specs" really sell that many phones. It's the fact that Huawei has the resources to cut margins to the bone and offer a top-of-the-range experience at a mid-market price which may prove more important.

Huawei describes its Android-powered Ascend P2 as the world's "fastest" smartphone

But rather than the avalanche of statistics rolled out by the head of the consumer business Richard Yu, it was the presentation by the global brand director Amy Lou which really made an impression. "Today is the day Huawei really grows up," she said, before going on to say that the company aimed to make its brand as well-known as any on display in Barcelona this week.

Nokia and Blackberry are two of those famous names, and they face a different challenge from Huawei - reviving brands that have very quickly gone out of fashion. At a preview event, I interviewed a Blackberry executive Carlo Chiarello, who had got off the plane from Canada just a couple of hours earlier. He insisted his firm was well placed to grab the number three position, seeming confident of winning back the deserters: "We've got a large base of loyal customers, we're concentrating on bringing Blackberry people back."

When I asked about the mood at the Waterloo headquarters since the launch of Blackberry 10, he described it as "ecstatic" - which seemed a bit excessive. But at least the company which had been drifting for years now has a story to tell - if only its executives can learn to put it into plain English.

With Android and Apple so dominant, you might think there was no room for another operating system, whether it was Blackberry or Windows Phone. But tell that to Mozilla, which held a press conference unveiling progress with its Firefox OS mobile operating system. Seventeen mobile operators have signed up to sell Firefox phones made by Alcatel, LG, ZTE - and soon Huawei.

The smartphone landscape was looking pretty settled but perhaps we are about to see everything change once more.

Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    I will be able to order a pizza faster now from my phone using 4G, well worth the million of dollars of R&D in my opinion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    It takes about a generation of successful phones as a foundation to hit the "big time" in mobiles.

    Samsung laid that foundation with the excellent S2, which aided the hype of the S3, which then enjoyed great success.

    One great phone wont win the masses, people want to buy that great phone's "new and improved" second version.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    I'm tired of these articles about bigger, faster, better, more. For someone like myself working to create a telemedicine system for devekoping countries what would really make headlines would be if all of this technology (that's already out there) could be made to a standard so that devices and systems could easily operate together. Give us a story about streamlined, connectable, affordable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    They won't do well in the English-speaking world, because their name is difficult to pronounce. When there's so little difference between the actual phones, it's small factors like that which will decide matters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    a bit of string and two cans is all i can afford thanks to the uk government

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    "The Chinese save a fortune on R&D, they just steal everyone else's idea's."
    As if western corporations don't. The graphical user interface was invented by Xerox, stolen by Apple and then by Microsoft. Mobile phone OSs seem to be very similar, the most innovative being the WebOS, but that's been discontinued. IE and Mozilla just duplicate each others features. I could continue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    The Chinese save a fortune on R&D, they just steal everyone else's idea's. They spend all their money on hacking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    The biggie will have the size and weight of a kindle and the versatility of a desktop

    True mobile computing

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    7 laughingdevil

    Is that necessarily a bad thing from the point of view of most consumers? An impressive specification may be good for playing Phone Top Trumps but, for most people, "the experience" - i.e. whether it can do what they want it to do in a convenient manner - is more important than the specification - i.e. the absolute limit of what it can do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Who cares? Sooner or later we'll all end up with the same oblong of plastic, it's what we consume on the device being the revenue stream of the future. Companies will make no profit on the hardware and rely on the OS for the revenue aka Amazon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    I give it a week before Samsung and Apple both launch copyright lawsuits against Huawei, the big kids don't like to let anyone else in their sandbox.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    4. Opondo

    Good luck to them; competition can only be a good thing.

    Problem is trade/competition with Chinese companies is a one way street.

    If you have every tried to sell or develop hi tech equipment into China then you'll no its pretty well closed to foreign businesses unless you cozy up to a Chinese firm or grease the palms of the States bureaucrats.

    Open and fair they are not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    5.Killer Boots Man - "....Supermarkets are heavily discounting things? ...."

    It may not feel like it, but compared to how much wholesale prices have gone up in the last 2 years prices have not risen as much.

    But the Government want us to have the cheaper exports that a weaker currancy brings with it.....

    .....but the flip side is more expensive imports.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    "but I'm sceptical about whether "specs" really sell that many phones"

    Possibly the truest thing RCJ has ever written!

    The days of the "best" tech item being the biggest seller seem long gone, thanks to Apple it's now all about the "brand" and "the experiance", about making average tech and marketing it as a premium product.

    Thes days phones are just fashion accessories!

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Look. There are two markets - social who need text, tweet and facebook and if all else fails, phone. Then business, who need phone, security, email, text, then the others. So that's the function covered. Domestic wants low monthly, lots of texts and tweets and big screen. Business wants lots of bundled calls, texts and 'trendy' interface. The phones aren't really the market. What people want, is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    @1 Little_Old_Me

    Supermarkets are heavily discounting things? Which supermarkets would that be? The ones I use have never been more expensive, it's as if you can see the price increases on a daily basis!

    The only discounts I can see are the 3 for 2 or even 4 for 3. Those can hardly be classed as discounts and you just end up spending more and throwing some of it away when they spoil!

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    When all's said and done, there's very little 'brand love' in this industry.

    An Android phone is an Android phone, and if Huawei make a very good one and it's competitively priced, as one would expect a Chinese product to be, it'll do well. I've had other Huawei hardware before, and the quality is a match for Samsung / HTC.

    Good luck to them; competition can only be a good thing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    If the price is right then I guess people will buy them so long as they spend the money needed on advertising. I got my Nexus 4 for £280 straight from Google yet not many people have heard of it despite it arguably being the best specced phone on the planet.

    I think Huawei will run into the same problems unless they market their phones like mad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    "Huawei, ...virtually unknown as a phone brand in many parts of the world. "

    Except that everyone (well anyone with any tech credentials) knows that Huaweii make those little dongles people like you Rory plug into your laptop for mobile broadband. Vodafone, T-Mobile and many other networks use them.

    They may be unknown as a phone brand, but they do have previous in the consumer tech arena.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    We can see in nidustries as diverse as banking, energy production, auditors & supermarkets that real competition does not work when there's less than about 8 major players.

    Take supermarkets - despite the heavy discounting currently going on courtesy of the recession they are still making multi million/billion profits at a healthy % of turnover.

    Good luck to ALL the smaller manufacturers.


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