Huawei at CES 2013: how did it do?

Features Paul Briden 11:54, 9 Jan 2013

Huawei announced a handful of new products at CES 2013 but how is the portfolio looking? We assess the situation

Huawei has wrapped up its product announcements at CES 2013, which has seen the company showcase a pair of Android handsets and its first Windows Phone 8-based model. So what’s the verdict?

Well that depends on how you look at it.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

There is the argument that Huawei has taken a good long look at what products have propelled Samsung to the top spot in the last 12 months and has adapted its own portfolio accordingly.

The Ascend D2 is your flagship Galaxy S3 competitor with a quad-core processor, while the Ascend Mate is Huawei’s take on the Galaxy Note 2 ‘phablet’ concept with much the same spec as its smaller stable-mate and a larger 6.1-inch touchscreen.

Admittedly, Huawei has kept things a bit more contemporary with faster 1.5GHz processor speeds plus a 5-inch 440ppi display and 13-megapixel camera on the Ascend D2, but these are not things which will set it apart from the pack.

Layer cake

However, the introduction of Huawei’s new Emotion UI across both devices suggests it’s following in Samsung’s tailored TouchWiz footsteps with the aim of delivering what spokespeople commonly refer to as an ‘experience’.

On the one hand it might be a shrewd move to focus on the type of devices consumers seem to find appealing, but on the other, unless Huawei can really distinguish its devices from Samsung’s (or undercut on price substantially) it has the potential to backfire.

Attempts to distinguish its products are also fraught with peril, for example, Huawei has made the Ascend Mate considerably larger than the Galaxy Note 2 at 6.1-inches.

So, while Huawei can say ‘look it has a bigger display’ there’s the unfortunate side-effect that it’s even more cumbersome than Samsung’s offering, which appears to have been just about acceptable to consumers at 5.5-inches – and even that was, for some, an uncomfortable expansion from the original Note’s 5.3-inches.

For us, one of Huawei’s most appealing features is that reports suggest the Emotion UI is a lighter interface overlay than TouchWiz and similar UIs from other manufacturers, allowing more of Google’s original Android vision to show through and keeping customisation as a focus.

But, we recognise our tastes aren’t necessarily in-line with what the vast majority of paying customers might want. Samsung’s TouchWiz was always a pretty thick layer and the company’s phones have sold like hot cakes.

Conversely, manufacturers such as Huawei, ZTE and Motorola have offered devices with more ‘hands-off’ UIs or even stock Android before now and generated relatively little interest from consumers at large.

Who are we?

There is, unfortunately, that element with Huawei that, while we who are focused on the ever-changing tech space know who the company is, out there in the big wide world Samsung is a household brand, but for many Huawei isn’t going to be so much as a blip on the radar.

Another problem with adopting the Samsung model is we doubt Huawei can flex the same level of marketing muscle required to get its products so deeply entrenched in the public mindset – arguably Samsung’s most impressive feat to date was becoming as recognisable a smartphone brand as Apple’s iPhone and that has, almost entirely, been the result of marketing.

What about Windows Phone? Well, the Ascend W1 isn’t aimed to be a premium model and is, at best, a rudimentary nod to Microsoft, with its mid-level hardware and uninspiring design.

Again this could be argued as following Samsung’s example, as Samsung appeared to have hastily stuffed a Qualcomm processor into its Galaxy S3 flagship and loaded it with Windows Phone 8 before kicking it out the nearest door with an ‘Ativ S’ label attached.

Having said this, we understand the Ascend W1 is only the tip of Huawei’s Windows Phone spear with apparently an Ascend W2 and possibly an Ascend W3 on the way, as well as talk of a mystery 6.1-inch Windows Phone 8 handset in the style of the Ascend Mate.

Huawei has shown some competent hardware at CES 2013 but nothing particularly spectacular. Previously the company has enjoyed success by offering more affordable handsets for the lower-end of the market and while a bid for a piece of Samsung’s pie is understandable, such a strategy might not produce the results Huawei is hoping for.

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