Can Huawei and Xiaomi challenge Apple?

Chinese smartphone makers have unveiled their flagship models for this year amid weak market response to the latest offerings of Apple and Samsung Electronics.

Samsung’s Galaxy S9 series has failed to make a big splash since hitting the market earlier this month, and Apple’s iPhone X reportedly experienced weak demand after the holiday season with suppliers reportedly slashing their component shipments for the phone.

Both news signaled that the two leading smartphone brands are struggling to defend their market share amid sluggish sales.

On the other hand, their Chinese counterparts continued to gain market share with double-digit growth in shipments worldwide.

To maintain the market momentum, Xiaomi and Huawei on Tuesday unveiled their latest flagship products, Mi Mix 2S and P20 series respectively. On the same day, Apple hosted a press event at a Chicago school with the launch of new entry-level iPad and a series of education-related apps for students and teachers.

It’s quite clear that Apple steered clear of its Chinese rivals by focusing on its iPad business in the first half of the year. For the second half, it is said that the US tech giant will launch three new iPhone models in the hope of setting the benchmark for the market.

Meanwhile, the Mi Mix 2S and P20 series are boasting elements found in the iPhone X. Xiaomi’s latest offering, for example, is equipped with a vertical dual camera, while P20 series has a notch at the top of the front screen. Does this mean the designers of the two companies simply cannot come up with a new form factor for their phones, or is it an acknowledgment of Apple’s leadership in phone design?

Several years ago, critics accuse Chinese phonemakers of merely copying Apple’s design and selling them at lower prices for the domestic market. But now, as Huawei and Xiaomi have risen to be among the top five smartphone brands in the world, they seem to want to convince consumers that their products are surpassing Apple on all counts.

In their respective presentations, the two Chinese companies compared their latest products with iPhone X in an apparent bid to convince consumers that theirs are better.

For example, the Mi Mix 2S has a powerful dual camera system with optical image stabilization and artificial intelligence support. Xiaomi founder Lei Jun compared a shot taken in low-light condition with his product with that of iPhone X, and the shot from Mi Mix 2S appeared to have a much better picture quality.

Lei also demonstrated how its digital voice-activated assistant was better than Apple’s Siri in terms of localized information and in completing tasks with multiple instructions. From Chinese users’ perspective, Xiaomi does a very good job in this department as the AI behind its voice-activated assistant seems to understand Chinese users’ mindset. However, if the service is exported to other markets, it might not be able to hold a candle to Siri.

Over the past decade, Apple’s iPhone had been outperforming its Android counterparts in terms of photo quality. But this time around, Huawei P20 Pro appears to have brought mobile photography to the next level with its three-camera system. Its main RGB camera has a large 40 megapixel “Quad Bayer” sensor, the secondary monochrome camera boasts a 20-megapixel, 1/2.78-inch sensor, while the telephoto camera offers three times optical zoom.

The P20 Pro manages to get the highest still-photo score of 114, although the phone is not equipped with an optical image stabilization system, which is a must-have for mobile photography, especially in low-light conditions. Huawei explains the phone has an AI image stabilization system, which allows the phone to take six different pictures with a single shot, pick the best one while avoiding the shaking-hand effect on the picture.

The two Chinese phone makers are playing the hardware game to challenge the leading positions of Apple and Samsung in the smartphone market.

But as smartphone is a commodity, it is more important for brands to establish their own values like innovation, corporate social responsibility and commitment to education to differentiate their products from the rest and cultivate brand loyalty.

Apple is no doubt facing an uphill battle to maintain its number two market position, but the company is also deepening its brand value in many aspects. The Chinese phone makers are still lagging far behind Apple in this regard.

Originally published at on March 29, 2018.

A columnist in political development in Greater China region, technology and gadgets, media industry, parenting and other interesting topics.

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