The Counterpoint team is on ground in sunny yet chilly Barcelona covering the latest and greatest innovations from the mobile industry. The Mobile World Congress begins on Monday but the companies began their activities from Saturday. The key press announcements over the pre-MWC opening weekend came from OPPO, Xiaomi, Huawei, Nokia-HMD, LG, Microsoft and TCL-Alcatel
Most of the announcements/launches were around flagship devices circling around three main themes — 5G, foldable form-factor, and cameras/imaging.
OPPO had a special “OPPO Innovation Event” showcasing its worth in two areas Camera and 5G. OPPO unveiled the world’s first smartphone with “10x lossless optical zoom” to be launched in Q2 2019. OPPO is using a special three camera sensor setup which smartly switches between the ultra-wide sensor to 48MP mid-range to a specially crafted telephoto sensor and lens array to deliver a 10x lossless zoom. The secret sauce is in the algorithms and the special design of the telephoto lens which sports a periscope design with a prism to enable multiple factor zoom.
OPPO with this camera technology aims to build some unique differentiation in the tougher premium space to compete with likes of Apple, Huawei, Samsung, and Google. Camera is the key focus area for flagship phones, the relative contribution of the camera to the overall Bill of Materials has gone up from 5% a few years ago to 13% in 2018.
Another area OPPO is looking to continue to innovate along with the camera and AI is 5G. OPPO announced a US$1.5 billion R&D investment and aims to launch its first 5G handset in early H2 2019. OPPO actually commenced its 5G research in 2015 and since then had more than 2,000 technical submissions to the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). OPPO now has six research divisions and four R&D centers to drive this investment.
Huawei – Industry Leading Design & Impeccable Time To Market
Huawei launched a refreshed Matebook X Pro PC, but the real excitement was for the Mate X – its 5G folding smartphone that, in one hit, eclipsed all rivals. Its so-called falcon wing hinge is a work of mechanical genius. Huawei’s overall design seems well-thought out. However, we are yet to be convinced about both the hinge and the screen’s long-term durability. We are also still to be convinced that the use case for a folding phone is strong enough to offset the inevitable compromises.
One of the main compromises is the UI in folding devices – not just Huawei’s. Android has not been optimized for folding devices and this was evident from the on-stage demo from Richard Yu, who had to do more juggling than is usually the case with new phone launches.
But of the folding devices so far announced, Huawei has set the highest bar not just in its design and engineering but also with its price. At US$2,299 it is even more expensive than Samsung’s already loftily-priced (US$1,980) Samsung Galaxy Fold – though the Samsung device is not, initially, 5G and Huawei has included a higher memory configuration (8GB/512GB) with a better design.
For foldable phones, as a first step, it is all about designing the hinge. Huawei has assembled more than 100 components to design the foldable hinge called “Falcon Wing” allowing a stretchable and thinner design. This design approach allows a 360-degree rotation, enabling full back-to-back fold unlike what we have seen in other designs from Samsung or Royole.
The side bar design also is cleverly designed for a nice grip while holding it in open 8″ mode and it also houses the 5G sub-6 GHz antenna. The massive 4500 mAh battery is distributed discretely into each of the sides of the two display.
In addition to the Mate X, Huawei also announced an updated and much neater 5G CPE device – with both indoor and outdoor variants. And a 5G MiFi type device. We fully expect that the forthcoming P30 series will include at least one 5G variant.
Huawei’s PCs – Purposeful Products
As with its smartphones, Huawei looks closely at competitors and then iterates its products while focusing on a number of key performance factors. This results in products that are extremely competitive on most performance metrics that consumers care about: battery life and charging speed, screen size and aspect ratio, computing and graphics power. It goes a few steps further though with the use of a compact charging apparatus that makes the typical bricks that accompany most PCs look ridiculously cumbersome.
New for the Matebook and Matebook X Pro is a feature called One Hop that takes advantage of the growing capability of Huawei’s EMUI software. Huawei Share One Hop allows content such as photos, videos, clipboard taken with Huawei smartphones to be rapidly and seamlessly shared with the PC and vice versa. This also applies to documents. While a useful feature, it only works between Huawei PCs and smartphones with EMUI version 9.1 – likely to arrive with the P30 Pro in a few weeks. This seamless hand-off of content seamlessly across devices reduces a huge pain-point for mobile workers and power users and can increase stickiness for users to use multiple Huawei products similar to synergies between Apple MacBook and iPhones.
And while Huawei’s PCs are good, they still don’t support native cellular connectivity; something that should be a distinctive advantage for Huawei. While it’s true to say that relatively few people choose and use cellular capable PCs, Huawei could have offered it as an option. With the advent of 5G just around the corner, it makes even more sense to provide connectivity that isn’t reliant on, often insecure, public WiFi hotspots.
HMD – Nokia 9 Pureview Steals the Show
HMD launched a slew of new devices covering an array of price points from US$35 to US$699.
At the lower end, the new Nokia 210 offers an excellent 2.5G feature phone experience based on its S30+ UI. The device includes a version of the Opera-mini browser and support for a few apps including Facebook. At US$35 it is not the cheapest feature phone but should be among the best at that price point – key for many emerging markets.
The Nokia One Plus – at US$99 – hits a key price point for entry smartphones. The design is slick and the operation, based on Android Pie Go edition, is smooth.
The Nokia 3.2 and 4.2, the first ‘four’ series device from Nokia HMD, land in the key US$130 – US$200 price band. Solid if unspectacular designs, but with the unique promise of two years major Android platform updates and monthly security updates. This applies to all of Nokia HMDs Android-based smartphones and is, we think, an under-communicated benefit given that the vast majority of Android smartphones never receive platform updates throughout their life.
The real show-stopper for Nokia HMD is the Nokia 9 Pureview. This has been widely leaked, but what hasn’t been leaked is the quality of the images the device can generate. It has five image sensors (two RGB and three mono) controlled by an image co-processor developed in conjunction with camera-make Light. The multiple sensors allow unsurpassed depth sensing and detail resolution. The creative possibilities are enhanced by being able to shoot in RAW format and edit using a version of Adobe Lightroom that’s included with the Nokia 9 Pureview. The product design is strong and the price competitive at US$699. Given the recent propensity of some Chinese rivals to move into the pricing headroom created by Apple, HMD has been wise not to follow suit. This is especially the case because Xiaomi is the one Chinese player that is racing down the price curve and making waves in Europe as a result.