Huawei has been busy creating a support ecosystems for its heavy-on-features smartphones. Plus, build support apps through local alliances where possible. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Can Huawei keep having the world’s smartphone users come back for more? Not just in its home market of China, where it continues to exert its dominance, but just about everywhere else where there is demand for premium and feature-heavy mobiles.

Walter Ji, President for Global Partnerships & Eco-development at the Chinese tech giant's Consumer Business Group, thinks it’s all possible. “We continue to spread our business globally – except, of course, in the US,” said Ji. “Our smartphones can be found in all other key markets – when we came to the UAE, we wanted to build a solid base and where we can bring the best of experiences to our consumers.

“Market share is important, because that helps our local partners, whether that’s retailers or app developers. That (price cuts) will not be the only way to win consumers. Huawei right from the time it was launched (in 1987) was encouraged to run a marathon. That’s the strategy we are taking to winning consumers, whether in the UAE, Germany or anywhere.”

Walter Ji of Huawei's Consumer Business Group Sonia Shah/Gulf News

Huawei clocked $99.9 billion in revenues last year, deriving $17.8 billion in net profit. The consumer business group generated $38.17 billion as revenues, helped by an expanding smartphone and smart watch line up. 

Running a sprint too

But so much has happened to and within Huawei that some of the running was definitely on the faster side these last three years. The US sanctions on the company – as part of a wider tussle between the US and China – meant Huawei had to start from scratch its search for new chip partners, an operating system and equally vital make-or-break choices.

Three years down the line, Huawei is still standing, both with its expanding product-line and software partners to build all those new apps to populate its AppGallery. There are, however, steep challenges to confront and overcome – and not just the ones related to the US sanctions.

“Like every other vendor, we are facing challenges on the availability of chipsets – we are still looking for solutions,” said Ji. “We are investing a lot as the world’s third largest mobile ecosystem. R&D investments will always be the priority, with more than 10 per cent of the spending going into this annually. In some years, that’s even been 13-14 per cent.

“Last year, our R&D investment was No. 1 in the world. We believe we can find solutions for the chipset shortages in the future, though we do not have a specific timetable on when. The chipsets are quite complex and we will keep relying on partners for supplies. We don’t have our own foundries for the chips, at least not yet.”

Stock - Walter Ji of Huawei
Walter Ji of Huawei Consumer Business Group: "From our side, we believe an open ecosystem is quite important to give consumers the sense of freedom to choose. Whether it’s smartwatches or laptops, it's their decision whether or not to have the same brand as the smartphone." Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Global chip shortages

Chips, which are at the core of all smart devices, whether smartphones or cars, have been in acute shortage since early 2020. The pandemic had a hand in exacerbating the problem, and manufacturers and vendors are so far yet to deliver a solution. So, if a smartphone gets delayed between launch to being available for order, blame the chip shortages.

Huawei’s latest flagship P50 (including the flip ‘Pocket’ version) have made it to UAE stores, and backed up with the new GT3 smartwatch. Another consumer push involves a premium notebook range. 

“There’s been definite progress for us in the UAE and Gulf, especially once we started building our own ecosystem,” said Ji. “We collaborated with Emirates airline not only on the smartphones but also watches, whereby they customise their apps to integrate with our devices and travellers can receive all kinds of notifications on their flights.

“Once R&D focus will pay off, and consumers will start going for these products for what they can offer and not just for the price. If five years ago people used apps for global services (buying something from an overseas supplier), nowadays, mobile services are developed more for localized needs. We intend to keep leveraging our global experience and local partners to bring the best of local services to local consumers.”

There are about ‘four or five big app developers’ working closely with Huawei on its mobile services and on the AppGallery, which lists more than 200,000 options now, the majority being for the Chinese market. That will change as more developers in the Middle East and elsewhere push Huawei-enabled applications.

The end-game would be to “build a new generation of a mobile ecosystem that can support all internet of devices, with the smartphone being the super-device,” said Ji. “Our job is to make it easy for consumers.”

We don't keep thinking of what's happening with the US sanctions. Best to focus on whatever resources we have to creating that even better consumer experience

- Walter Ji of Huawei's Consumer Business Group