Honor’s EU President talks about differentiating from Huawei, Magic OS 7, and their upcoming foldable
When Huawei sold off its sub-brand Honor in late 2020 to a consortium of buyers, it was welcome news to many phone fans. Not only did it mean that we get a new independent player in the smartphone scene, but there were hopes that Honor devices would regain access to Google Mobile Services, which had been stripped from all devices under the Huawei umbrella since mid-2019. And that was exactly what happened: Honor re-made its global debut in the summer of 2021 with the Magic 3 series, with a big marketing push about being an independent brand and having full Google support to boot.
Since then, Honor has released several more devices to the international market, with the latest, the Honor 70, getting a headline spot to open the IFA trade show in Berlin. “On the IFA stage for the first time since independence,” read the first sentence of the sub-title in the official Honor press release.
Honor and the Huawei influence
But there’s an elephant in the room: so far, despite proudly flaunting its independence, all of Honor’s devices, including and especially the smartphones, have looked and felt very similar to Huawei devices. What gives?
The answer, according to Honor’s EU President Tony Ran, is that Honor simply hasn’t been independent long enough.
“Yes, at this moment there are similarities in terms of design and user interface between [Honor and Huawei devices]. The process to develop a product, from initial design to reaching store shelves, could take two to three years,” says Ran during a media roundtable session in Berlin. “We are changing, but not as fast as you guys may expect.”
Honor’s Managing Director of Marketing in Europe, Clement Wong, chimes in: “Internally, we care more than anyone to make our products stand out from not just Huawei, but other vendors. But it’s a step-by-step process — to differentiate from a hardware perspective, it takes time due to the supply chain logistics and R&D investments required to build a new product.”
Magic OS 7.0
In fact, Wong promises the first sign of differentiation will come soon via the upcoming Magic OS 7.0 software that will launch in Q4 this year. “Magic OS 7.0 is a big leap from previous Honor software, it will look and feel totally different from Huawei devices.”
It is unknown currently if Magic OS 7.0 will launch alongside new hardware, but it is very likely, given Honor’s push to re-establish itself as a global consumer tech player after US sanctions had previously undone the brand’s overseas growth. According to Ran and Wong, Honor hopes to make Europe the company’s “second home market,” behind, obviously, China.
This strategy will involve continuing to build relationships with carriers across Europe. “We already have major connections with [many] major European and UK carriers,” says Ran. “But there are some carriers that are a little conservative in choosing a new partner like us, so it’s a step-by-step process, and we’re working to establish our network partners.”
Unlike Huawei’s consumer boss Richard Yu, who is notorious for making boisterous claims, Honor’s leaders seem to have more realistic, grounded targets. “We know it’s not going to happen overnight,” says Ran of establishing Honor as a major player in Europe. “It may be a five to ten-year process, but we’re committed to the goal of making Honor as big a name in Europe as we are in China.”
Ran says Honor may open physical stores around Europe like it already has in its home market of China, and some Asian regions like Singapore and Malaysia.
One more thing Honor hopes to do now that it is no longer just a “sub-brand” is to finally establish itself as a premium brand. “Previously, we were somewhat limited in what markets we could pursue,” says Wong. “We can now pursue products in the flagship space.”
Competing globally with foldables
The company had already started with the Honor Magic 4 Pro, which checks all the boxes a flagship phone should. But to stand out from the market, Honor will have to launch something new and different — and it’s coming. In Q1 of 2023, Honor will launch a new foldable phone that will sell outside of China. Unless other brands like Oppo or Google beat Honor to it later this year, Honor’s upcoming foldable will be the first large foldable phone with full GMS access to launch internationally, thus finally giving Samsung some much-needed global competition in the foldable space.
“We are ultimately a product company, and the best way to communicate with consumers is via products,” says Ran. “The most important direction of Honor is still to invest in, and build products.”