For the past decade, the South African smartphone landscape has been dominated by two specific players – Samsung and Apple. That’s no longer the case, however, with Chinese company Huawei a firm fixture when it comes to local market share in recent years.

2018 in particular is shaping up nicely for Huawei Mobile, with the company surpassing Apple and securing second spot among all manufacturers for smartphone shipments during Q2 2018, according to IDC.

The manufacturer has been able to achieve a similar feat locally as well, with Huawei claiming the number two spot in the smartphone market for GfK‘s report for June 2018.

How did a company on the fringes of the smartphone market a little over five years ago become a major player today?

We recently participated in a media roundtable at the firm’s Johannesburg offices to discuss the recent success and strategy moving forward with Huawei consumer business group general manager, Zhao Likun.

Hero devices

Leading the charge for Huawei was a pair of smartphones – the P20 and P20 Pro. These devices were unveiled to the world in late-March this year, and two weeks later were available for purchase in South Africa.

That’s the quickest turnaround time that Huawei has managed for SA to date, and is in my opinion a big reason why both devices have sold so well.

Globally for example, in the four months following their debut, Huawei sold nine million P20 series smartphones, with 50% of users said to be female, pointed out Likun.

While Huawei did not mention the precise numbers for SA, the pair of devices are clearly having an impact, with a reported Year-on-Year sales growth of 100 percent compared to their predecessor phones.

This has seen Huawei’s local market share for Q2 in 2018 increase to 14.5 percent from nine percent last year.

Continued investment

Along with coveted hardware, Huawei has stated its intent to invest heavily with regards to its local efforts, explains Likun.

The warehouse that the company said it was building around the time of the P20 series launch will be coming to fruition shortly, with Likun adding that construction should be done at the end of August, and operations are planned to kick off shortly thereafter.

The introduction of a warehouse not only means more hardware will be coming into the country, it also has a positive impact on the level of after sales service that the company can provide.

This is also coupled with a partnership announced with Vodacom in July, enthuses Likun, where better after-sales offerings are said to be in the offing.

Looking at the retail space, which Huawei explains is a vital category, the focus is on experience.

As such, Likun adds that we probably won’t be seeing any new Huawei-branded stores popping up, but rather an improvement on the existing Experience stores in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Furthermore the Huawei GM says the South Africa retail space is heavily dominated by operators, as consumers often like to purchase their contracts from said operators. As such, there isn’t much need to create more dedicated retail spaces, but rather focus on the after-sales aspect of the company.

Keeping momentum

Huawei doubling down on its local efforts is good news for consumers, but what about how the company will ensure it continues to have momentum for the rest of the year.

In that regard, Likun highlighted a few upcoming plans and events that Huawei has in store.

The first is the rollout of its GPU Turbo update, which aims to improve the graphics performance of select devices and deliver a better mobile gaming experience.

Likun says Huawei Mobile South Africa is currently testing the update on specific devices, and the rollout is set to begin in phases later this month until the end of the year.

The next noteworthy event for Huawei is IFA 2018, where the company is primed to unveil the successor to the Kirin 970 “Mobile AI” chipset.

Likun did not go into detail about what the CPU will be packing, or indeed how it has improved on the AI functionality of its predecessor, but did add that it will feature in the next Mate series flagship phone.

No release date has been mentioned for that device, but Huawei will likely unveil it in October this year.

Along with a new flagship phone for the second half of 2018, Likun says more fitness-focused wearables in the form of smartwatches and smartbands will be landing locally too.

Watch this space

2018 has already proved a fruitful year for Huawei, and the company has plans to keep the momentum going for the rest of the year, but 2019 could be an even more significant year.

We’re set to see a 5G-enabled device arrive from Huawei, one that Likun says will be coming to SA, along with the rollout of 5G technologies in greater degrees.

This Likun says is an essential building block in the IoT ecosystem that Huawei envisages.

When asked whether the company has grander plans for the local smartphone landscape, Likun believes that Huawei can close the gap and overtake Samsung (currently in top spot) within the next two years.

It should be interesting to see if they can continue to keep Apple at bay and target Samsung’s throne next.