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 120.

    @119 - this article is about smartphone manufacturers, not phone operating system market share. Clearly Samsung and Apple do have a significant lead over other manufacturers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    Yet another pre-Apple distorted BBC report. Actual smartphone sales numbers for 2012 Q4 (sources: IDC and Gartner):

    Android 69.7%
    iOS (Apple) 20.9%
    RiM (Blackberry) 3.5%
    MS 3%
    then the rest.

    Android is totally dominant (more than x3 iOS/Apple sales). The BBC should stop plugging Apple by overstating its position.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    How can anyone use the words exciting and phone in the same sentence?

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    The mobile landscape can change so quickly that it won't be surprising if today's market leaders are playing catch up in a few years. Companies like Samsung are responsible for the demise of the likes of Sony so who's to say that Huawei won't do the same again. They have the resources available that few can match.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    Unfair and non-technical, I agree, but a company with a name that sounds like "who are we?" faces an uphill struggle.

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    Nokia had a wonderful opportunity as they had a new operating system designed from scratch (it was called Meego, and only ever landed on the Nokia N9 which never saw UK light of day). Unfortunately their new CEO (formerly of Microsoft) agreed to exclusive Windows OS going forward. The Meego OS lives on in Jolla's Sailfish, which I'm going to be hanging fire for as Meego was absolutely wonderful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    Maybe, just maybe if the Journalist stopped dissing anything that is not apple, then perhaps others may have a chance. BBC Click did an article on the MS Surface Tablet and made a real effort to explain just how heavy it is compared to the ipad, even going into a gym to get the point over, well the real fact is that the Ipad is just ½ ounce lighter

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    Maybe is Nokia had not restricted its flagship 920 to EE then it may have sold more units. I have now bought the Samsung Ativ S and as a direct comparison it is vary comparable, but I would have rather liked the 920 but I cannot say I like EE one bit. Windows phone are very good, I have an ipad and I will never buy apple ever again, and I have used Android. It’s windows form me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    Huawei has some 'interesting' employment issues in the UK, staff are signed up on a 2 year fixed contract to avoid UK employment laws. Staff have to re-apply for their jobs so start looking for another job after about a year, this causes massive staff turnover. Rory - It would be interesting to see what TAX Huawei has paid in the UK…? If they have paid no UK tax they should get no UK contracts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    50. Chris
    I like the physical keyboard but don't like a touch screen and physical keyboard hybrid. Prefer a joystick or whatever when using a physical keyboard. Or prefer a phone that is totally touch screen. Don't know why.

    14. Bruxical.
    You are right. Was speaking to a guy who sold to China and he said "You only sell to China once" and they then copy what you have sold them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    If Nokia had gone with Android it would be in the top three within a year or two. Its devices are excellent, probably the best in the industry, but no one wants Windows phone.
    Blackberry is dead. Its going to be gone within 5 years, its over, finished.

    Sony could make a comeback, the new Xperias are grear, but it might be too late.

    Huawei will likely take second, for good. Apple is going down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    Over the past few years, ive had iPhone (Apple), HTC (Old Windows iOS) and Sonyx2 (Andriod) and can hand on heart say that the best phone/iOS combo would be Sony-Andriod they stick to what they known and what people want.
    Everyone is talking about HTC, BB, Nokia.but what about Sony. They have had some really good phones over the years, not really put a foot wrong

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    On a slightly different theme, when I go out to get my new phone I think i'll stop off at Ikea for some meatballs. They really are the dog's b******ks !

    (credit to mock the week !)

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    Blackberry need to sort out their atrocious reliability issues first. Hardly a day goes by without my colleague being asked to arrange replacement of yet another BB with a dead navigation roller.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    Blackberry no way for a third place. There is HTC, Nokia and few others too. Blackberry may be for 4th place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    BBC have failed to appreciate that Apple is the new Microsoft.

    If you really want to change the software landscape go open source,

    My Windows laptop died, hard drive irreparably broke, the stickers for Windows Vista had rubbed off, so I couldn't get a reinstall for what I had already paid for.

    Solution: installed Ubuntu (open source).

    One day the BBC will realise that Apple is the new MSoft.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    The market has become fragmented, and belongs to many players. Increasingly......

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    Apple are on there way out....

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    I have a Huawei smart phone, it cost me fifty quid. I got maps, gps, navigation, facebook, gmail, youtube, and the rest. The fact it wont run Angry Birds apps above a crawl isn't a factor for me. I wasn't into brand, I was into budget. and what's not to like at the price?

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    Y'know I don't think most people care whether their phone is running ios or android or windows or something else.
    Which means it's mostly just whatever is fashionable at the time they change contracts.


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