Life after Huawei: Honor claims to become an ‘iconic’ global phone brand

Honor Magic 4 Pro is the first high-end flagship phone.

Honor / CNET

According to the company’s CEO, George Chow, the formerly youth-focused phone brand has “come back”. But Honor that is back looks a little different from the company we knew before.

It was once a sub-brand of Chinese tech giant Huawei, Honor Separate routes from the parent company in November 2020, when it was sold to Shenzhen Zhixin New Information Technology. under increasing pressure from US trade sanctions that prevented it from buying US components and using Google services, Huawei has resorted to selling in an effort to prevent Honor and itself from becoming shipwrecks.

But the decision to sell Honor was more than ensuring Honor’s survival. The company’s liberalization also allowed her to stretch her wings and try things she had never dreamed of before.

In an interview with CNET, Zhao said his goal is to turn Honor into a premium global brand.. “The most important thing for us is to develop the flagship product, and the experience should be better than the most popular smartphone today.”

This product is the Honor Magic 4 Pro, which was unveiled last week at MWC in Barcelona. The Magic 4 Pro, a high-end Android flagship with an intriguing ring-shaped multi-cam setup, is the kind of ambitious device that Honor for 2020 or earlier didn’t have the freedom to produce. Huawei freed Honor from its original directive, which was directly attracting a young audience with pocket money to buy budget phones and mid-range phones that offer value for money.

For Zhao, independence meant the opportunity to show what he and his team were really capable of. “Now we are free to enter any zone and any price bracket.”

This does not mean that Zhao will try to make Honor big in the US directly. His current target is growth in Europe, the Middle East, Asia Pacific and Latin America. Only later, when the company strengthened its research and development capacity, would it attempt to penetrate the very difficult North American market.

foldable and beyond

Already, Honor has made great progress in China. According to Counterpoint Research, it went from having the fifth largest market share in the country at the beginning of 2021 to claiming the second place (jointly with Vivo) by the end of the year.

Her next big challenge will be to replicate that leap in the European market, where she wasn’t even in the top six. Winning customer support with the Magic 4 Pro and other Honor products will be key to achieving “double-digit growth” that Zhao expects to see this year compared to 2022.

Zhao’s first big decision was for Honor as an independent product development company. He set his team to work on developing the first foldable phone, the Magic V, to show the industry that Honor can not only compete in this product category, but it can do it better than others.

You will face challenges. Zhao said that innovation in the mobile phone industry has somewhat reached the point of suffocation. The question he was thinking about was how to get out of it. His approach so far has been to evaluate customer needs as highly as technological innovation. He hopes this will allow Honor to break through that ceiling.

Despite admitting it’s the “toughest product” to be made, Zhao firmly believes foldable phones will become mainstream at some point — a belief that creates the demand he said Honor has seen on the Magic V. The phone has a water-dropping hinge that Honor says is “The thinnest compared to similar products on the market” and allows the internal tablet screen to be “wrinkle-free”. The demand for foldable devices is driving Honor to introduce it to a wider audience and the company aspires to be a design leader.

Zhao is also excited about the potential for virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and other emerging technologies that can be combined with smartphones. Zhao said Honor has begun to think of a mixed reality and metaverse-ready product, but the technology is not yet mature. For him, it’s all about timing, and he’s currently focused on dominating the existing product categories.

Honor didn’t stop at the Honor V last year. It also released a range of phones, tablets, computers and accessories. It was all part of Zhao’s attempt to prove that “in every area, we can compete with industry leaders,” he said.

With the Magic 4 Pro, his team wanted to show that they could offer rendering, imaging and gaming performance similar to that of the iPhone 13 Pro. This team, not the company’s sales or products, is what Zhao is most proud of since the company’s independence.

“They always strive for the best in their class,” he said. “They say, Honor can solve these challenges, these difficulties, these problems. This spirit and attitude is truly the future [of the company]. “

kindled relationships

One of the difficulties faced by Zhao’s team is Global chip shortageThis affected all phone manufacturers. Zhao said the situation has improved and is still doing so. In the short term, this means Honor has had to focus on very specific markets, such as Europe, in order to deliver the phones. But with chips becoming widely available again, the company will be able to spread its network more widely to gain market share elsewhere.

Another major advantage of splitting from Huawei is that Honor can once again join forces with third-party companies that offer the latest technologies needed to compete at the end of the phone market.

Huawei has tried to wean itself from dependence on outside companies – partly out of desire, partly out of necessity. For many years, it used the domestic Kirin chipset exclusively in its phones. When that offer ran out, I had to switch to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chipset – although it was limited to 4G versions. The US trade ban that prevented it from buying parts to continue manufacturing Kirin also prevented it from continuing to provide Google services, a staple of any Android phone.

Zhao doesn’t have to repeat Huawei’s strategy of trying to do everything internally, nor does he try. “Honor will depend on the partners of the global ecosystem,” he said.

Not only is Google brought back to Honor phones, but the flagship Magic 4 series of phones are also among the first to be powered by Qualcomm’s latest 5G Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chip. Honor is no longer obligated to use Kirin, it has resumed a working relationship with Qualcomm, with the companies’ R&D departments working together more closely than ever.

Qualcomm President and CEO Cristiano Amon congratulated Honor on the unveiling of the Magic 4 Series last week. “We are extremely grateful and proud of the strong collaboration between our two companies, which has led to the development of truly amazing devices,” he said in a statement.

If Honor, as it hopes, leverages its partnerships with Qualcomm and Google to ensure the Magic 4 Pro is one of the most exciting Android phones to be released in 2022, this could be a landmark year for the company. Zhao knows he’s put his team up for a tough challenge, but he believes the rewards are worth it. “When we offer a product that has been praised by the end consumer or the industry, it feels really great,” he said.