The P10 Hardware Lottery Exemplifies the Kind of Decision-Making That’s Holding Huawei Back
Cutting corners in a cut-throat market
Any press is good press, or so they say. That’s a phrase often used when a company finds itself in a precarious situation — but as Samsung learned first hand, in a hyperactive segment like this ever changing mobile space, the smallest misstep can turn out to have grave ramifications.
Huawei is learning this first hand with the negative press surrounding its recently-launched P10 and P10 Plus series of devices. They are no stranger to negative press surrounding the quality of their hardware. First came the Nexus 6P build quality debacle with shattering visors and bending devices, and recently the Honor 6X screen and build quality issues notched another one in their belt. One would think they would be walking a finer line when it comes to their smartphones, but the latest news surrounding them says otherwise.
As Aamir wrote about in an earlier article, Huawei is in the midst of a controversy due to how it handles its flagships’ components. They have already admitted to sourcing components from various sources, but further investigation is showing that these components feature vastly different technologies and capabilities from RAM speeds to the type of internal memory that is used. Utilizing components from various sources is a very common practice among OEM’s. Samsung does this with its cameras in its flagships known to alternate between its own ISOCELL sensor and a Sony one. Apple does this with its SOC’s alternating between Samsung and TSMC for manufacturing (which has brought its share of negative press) and it is widely known that HTC sources its displays from multiple partners too.
Batteries, displays, cameras, internal storage, and RAM can all be sourced from various partners. This helps supply chain constraints and it can also help with quality assurance… generally, it is perfectly fine. What is not fine is when these components offer vastly differing experiences depending on your luck of the draw, which is what Huawei is offering right now. While many users may never notice a difference between LPDDR3 and LPDDR4 or UFS 2.1 and eMMC 5.1; there is a quantifiable difference, and when you are paying flagship prices every customer deserves the same or at the very least a similar experience. By giving users a random combination of RAM and storage types, their customers aren’t buying a flagship, but a lottery ticket for a chance to earn the full product Huawei advertised.
Unlike other cases of component variety with a smartphone line, a large part of Huawei’s advertising relied entirely on the flagship components a user might have. Huawei, like many other Chinese manufacturers, puts a clear and heavy emphasis on marketing their devices’ power and performance. It’s no surprise, then, that they’d pick the faster RAM and UFS2.1 storage as talking points for their ad campaigns and promotional materials. In fact UFS2.1 was advertised for all markets of the Mate 9 as recently as last week; however, today only a few market pages actually show that specification. Obviously, though, it becomes a problem when a significant portion of P10 customers may not get the UFS 2.1 storage, or the LPDDR4 RAM, or both. People paid for a flagship under the notion that they’d get a flagship, with flagship components throughout. When people pay for a Samsung device, ISOCELL and Sony sensors offer comparable performance with differences that, to my knowledge, haven’t shown significant and quantifiable deltas — there is a mostly-lateral difference between the two. There is a clear hierarchy between LPDDR4 and LPDDR3 RAM, however, and the same goes for UFS 2.1 and eMMC 5.1 storage.
A worrying aspect to much of this is what it means for what Huawei is as a company, and what it’s trying to do. Giving credit where it is due, Huawei devices have come a long way. The Mate 9 and Honor 8 Pro are fantastic phones offering a solid build, vastly-improved software, and an overall appealing package. Huawei is trying hard to break into the large and somewhat stagnant US market and while on the surface they have nearly all the components to succeed, the lack of good decision making from Huawei serves to undermine all that they have accomplished. It’s not just their phones that have this issue either.
The Huawei Watch was and still is one of the best Android Wear devices you can buy today; it has a stellar screen, fantastic look, excellent battery life, and more. But instead of capitalizing on its success, Huawei has made one of the most boring and uninteresting devices to date – the Huawei Watch 2.
Similarly, the Honor 5X was a solid piece of hardware crippled by its software, which can be easily remedied. But instead building on that solid foundation they release its successor – the Honor 6X – which ships with an out of date OS version, crippled build quality, and packs one of the least durable displays on the market. The P10, which we have been speaking about, also ships with no oleophobic coating which is not only a standout in the market (particularly its segment), but is also just dumb. The recent string of decisions from Huawei are troubling seeing as their success in the US market, which can greatly help them in the long run, depends largely on enthusiasts, positive media coverage and word of mouth at this time; and despite my largely positive experiences with the Honor 8 Pro and Mate 9 I am hesitant to recommend them friends and family. The North American market does not appreciate corner cutting, and Huawei is truly not breaking away from the stereotype that troubles Chinese manufacturers in the US so much.
While Huawei’s decision making in these past few months leaves a lot to be desired, there is still time for them to correct their course and get back to improving their offerings. They need to be cautious though, they do not have the clout of a company like Samsung which can fairly easily rebound from total meltdown. There were some who thought Samsung would never come out from what happened with the Note 7, but soon after the S8 announcement they are boasting some of the best preorder numbers yet. Huawei makes a compelling phone with software that is quickly catching up to the competition, they just need to make sure they don’t shoot themselves in the foot by poor decision making because in an ultra-competitive market, someone is always nipping at their heels.
What do you think about the P10’s hardware lottery? Let us know in the comments.