February 28, 2017 6:40 am JST

Huawei sharpens aim at smartphone rivals

Chinese maker steals show at Mobile World Congress with P10 line

AYA ONISHI, Nikkei staff writer

Richard Yu Chengdong, head of Huawei Technologies' consumer business, unveils the P10 line of smartphones Feb. 26 at the Mobile World Congress in Spain.

BARCELONA, Spain -- China's Huawei Technologies shines as the clear star of this year's Mobile World Congress, dazzling visitors here with new, powerful offerings that could help close the gap with long-standing market leaders.

The up-and-coming maker's new P10 line boasts a battery life 29% longer than that for Apple's iPhone 7, Richard Yu Chengdong, CEO of Huawei's consumer business group, told a crowd at the line's unveiling Sunday.

The P10 phones use the proprietary Kirin chipset and offer more efficient power usage and a higher-definition liquid crystal display screen than their predecessors, tailored for a better experience viewing photos and videos. Yu compared the smartphones favorably to Apple's several times during the presentation, which took place a day before the start of the world's largest mobile device expo, running here from Monday through Thursday.

Reporters from around the world swarmed the presentation, forming a line more than 100 meters long in front of the Huawei booth. Some were eventually turned away.

Yu has reason to be confident in what Huawei is offering. The company has found massive support from customers, putting rival Apple in its sights. Huawei held a 9.5% share of the global smartphone market in 2016 compared with 14.6% for the American maker, U.S. research firm IDC says. South Korea's Samsung Electronics remains the world leader at just over 21%, but that share has fallen for three straight years.

Huawei phones are catching on even among budget shoppers in Japan. The P9 line now on the market includes features such as a camera lens from Germany's Leica, and reviews of the phone have been improving.

In decline

Samsung adopted a more subdued presence this year than last, when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg could be found at the Samsung booth. The company will not unveil a new smartphone at this year's mobile congress after the Galaxy Note 7, last year's star, was pulled from the market over incidents in which the phone caught fire.

A distinct sense of disappointment hovered over the expo following Samsung's tablet-heavy press conference Sunday. The company has said its new-model smartphone, the Galaxy S8, will be unveiled March 29. But rediscovering the excitement seen in the past could prove difficult.

The iPhone's launch in 2007 kicked off the smartphone era, upending the mobile phone market. Nokia, which until then held a share topping 50%, was slow to catch on to smartphones and eventually pulled out of development and production altogether. Apple and Samsung have led the field for some time, but may face a fall as Huawei gains speed.

Yet the Chinese maker has an important weakness: Data security concerns have stymied a full-scale entry into the U.S. The company will grow sales in Europe and China for now, an executive says. But a weak presence in one of the world's leading mobile phone markets holds the company back in global competition. Huawei also has trouble in rural China, where upstarts peddling cheaper products are gaining sway, despite strong share in the cities.

Apple and Samsung could still regain their footing. But the emerging Chinese titan shows no sign of backing down against its American and South Korean rivals.

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