Huawei, a global technology giant based at Guangdong, China, has been very vocal in pushing new technologies, be it AI or 5G, throughout the world via its smartphones, PCs, wearables and other passive infrastructure. The same is being followed by them in India through Honor, its sub-brand, in smartphones. Huawei and Honor have been able to garner much attention in the country with products such as Honor 6X, 7X, Honor 8 and Pro, Honor 9i and Lite and the much loved Honor View 10. Leading the brands in India, P Sanjeev, Vice President, Sales, Huawei Consumer Business Group, spoke with Haider Ali Khan on how things will shape up for Huawei and Honor in India in 2018. Excerpts:
Are you satisfied with the dual brand strategy; Huawei and Honor, in India? Have they been able to achieve the targets you have aspired for in terms of numbers and market base?
Honor is a consumer-centric brand which focuses on bringing affordable products to target consumers, that is the millennials of the country. While Honor products are primarily available online, Huawei follows a more traditional retail model, entailing marketing premium products and selling them in brick-mortar shops. Thus, by default, the two brands function as per entirely different models and to an extent independently as well. And yet they are the same given the sharing of few technical aspects, such as the Kirin processors. They, therefore, work in consort with each other for a coherent overall strategy rendering both Honor and Huawei as trustworthy dependable brands.
As per the recent report, Huawei is among the fastest growing brands with 165% growth, whereas Honor has registered a strong growth of 300% in Q4 2017, compared to last year same quarter. We are confident of continuing this momentum and growth.
Honor smartphones, be it Honor 8 Pro, 9i, 6X, and 7X, have done well for Huawei last year. What would be the newer addition to the series in 2018?
Honor, in 2017, produced some of the most avant-garde smartphones enclosed with upgraded technology and features like EMUI 8.0 user interface, quad-camera with full view display, homegrown Kirin 970 processor and bezel-less screen amongst others. As we are entering the era of Artificial Intelligence, Honor has taken steps in that direction by becoming the first brand to bring in a true AI enabled smartphone-The Honor View 10. Running on the very powerful Kirin 970 processor, the processor uses the most power-efficient computing architecture to enhance AI computing significantly, while integrating a standalone Neural Network Processing Unit (NPU) for heterogeneous computing. The Kirin 970 uses an advanced 10nm process to integrate 5.5 billion transistors within an area of just one cm, dramatically improving computing performance to deliver both rapid response and a smooth experience. In 2018, the AI experience will completely change smart applications.
Like 2017, we started 2018 with a bang, and besides the launch of the View 10 in early January, we have also launched the beautiful Honor 9 Lite offering quad cameras with an all glass body at a very aggressive price. Under the ‘India First’ strategy, we will be launching benchmark devices with an India focus.
Huawei has been pushing Honor more aggressively in the country in the mid and highend segment while the Huawei smartphones have taken a backseat. Huawei has now stopped being aggressive in the premium segment here in India. Any particular reason for that or it’s just a marketing strategy?
Huawei has been present in India for the last 17 years, and we were the first ones to realize the massive potential of the Indian market. Meanwhile, the Honor brand was rolled out in India less than three years ago and we have been gradually consolidating our position in the market. Honor was envisioned as a young, energetic e-brand for digital natives, aiming to create a better and accessible mobile internet experience for the young generation. Our growth has been calibrated; our priority initially was to understand the varying needs of the Indian consumer and ensuring a solid foundation. Picking up momentum, we have been consistently strengthening our base by investing in R&D and also setting up a manufacturing base for our Indian operations. Our aim is to provide solutions which hinge on our philosophy of innovation, being consumer-centric and quality.
From the outset, Huawei was envisioned as a brand targeting business elites that focusses more on premium segments, which differs from Honor. The dual brand strategy ensures our competitive advantage in different markets, allowing us to cater to varying consumer requirements. The Indian smartphone market is the second largest in the world but effectively tapping the potential of this vast country is a challenging task. Therefore, our marketing strategy here differs and is based on multiplicity of languages, customs and ethnicities even while speaking the language of millennials. Huawei has already established its name so we do not believe in being aggressive but relevant. We continue to focus on providing consumers with premium quality technological devices at compelling price points. We are already amongst the top three smartphone players globally and plan to replicate the success in India as well.
Huawei has come up with your first AI-driven smartphone, Honor View 10, in India. How could it prove to be a game changer for you in terms of market disruption dominated by OnePlus in that category?
Media critics and experts have termed Honor View 10 as the best smartphone under INR 30,000, equipped with the most advanced chipset and AI features. AI is definitely a watershed technology, changing the way the smartphones are perceived. It is a best friend to today’s millennials, who are spontaneous and multi-tasking. AI enabled phones will aid in day-to-day life activities, helping them deliver on-the-go, both at work or home. Understanding this very aspect, Honor took the plunge of incorporating the AI technology and launched View 10. With an advanced AI-powered user interface EMU I 8.0, the new range of Honor phones is not just pocket-friendly or a complete multimedia package but also very much technologically advanced.
With the world’s most powerful mobile AI processor and architecture, Honor View 10 marks the beginning of a new AI era, surprising and delighting you in everything you do. AI powered by the new Kirin 970 chipsets understands what you do with your phone. From recognizing different scenes to make your photos better to optimizing the phone system to suit the way you use your phone, AI speeds up operations, improves ease-of-use and delivers the best results.
Do you think that your own chipset Kirin is capable enough to take the limitless possibilities of having an AI-powered smartphone?
Huawei is committed to evolving smart devices into intelligent devices by building end-to-end capabilities that support coordinated development of chipsets, devices and the cloud. The ultimate goal is to provide a significantly better user experience. On-device AI needs to fully leverage the capabilities and value of devices while making the most of the massive amount of information, services and strong computing capabilities brought about by big data and the cloud. By integrating smart devices with the cloud and big data, On-device AI will continue to advance the intelligent evolution of devices.
We have our own Research and Development unit, which develops the chips and core processors from the start/ scratch- thereby ensuring the authenticity and purity of the product. As a brand itself, we believe in innovation and creating products which are technologically sound and yet affordable. Kirin Chipset is one such product which is fueled by AI developed using homegrown technology. It is the same product which enabled the brand to be the first to introduce the futuristic technology of AI in our smartphones.
AI will drive mobile connectivity into a new age of intelligent connectivity. Smartphones will be able to listen, read and even understand how humans think, providing us with relevant information when we need it. Based on Mobile AI architectures, this new generation of smartphones will transform human-to-machine interactions. AI- powered smartphones will have the ability to understand users and provide personalized services.
What do feel about the competition in the Indian market with too many global and indigenous players?
The year 2017 saw a plethora of smartphones being launched, from both domestic and international players, especially in the mid-range category and budget of 20-30K. Such a competition is always welcome as it propels in the forward direction. It serves as an inspiration to perform better and deliver an even better product- be it smarter tech features, R&D, manufacturing, after sales, online/ offline presence etc. Ultimately, we aim to provide a quality experience to all using cutting-edge technology. As mentioned earlier, despite the competition, we have registered strong growth and have emerged as one of the fastest smartphone brands in India.
Online has been the main source of traction for a brand like Honor. Will it continue to do so in 2018 or would you also plan to shift your focus to offline stores as well?
We are a young brand with a target audience which is primarily the millennial generation. Even when looked at demographically, more than half of India’s population will be between 28-32 by the year 2020, who are a go-getter and multi-tasking individuals. Honor brand caters to the needs of these youth who live and work on-the-go. Adding to this is the digitalization revolution which has been instrumental in popularizing the online platform.
However, we also understand market dynamics and importance of offline market owing to a complex market nature in a country like India. As a brand, we want to make sure that our products are accessible to everyone and hence we are also focused on strengthening our offline footprint. Honor has established few offline centers and has plans to open more service centers, especially in the Tier II and III cities of the nation.
How would the technology shape the year 2018 with respect to smartphones and where does Huawei and Honor fit into it? We have seen the bezel-less display, bigger battery, etc., last year?
Technological innovations have revamped the smartphone industry, making it more vibrant and competitive with every year. 2018 too will bring its own share of vicissitudes- there is now an onset of new advancements in the tech sector, with Artificial Intelligence to start with. Whether it is decoding the user behavior or assigning space and resources- AI leverages neural-processing technique which facilitates language- translation, image-recognition, and stimulates the handset for quick sensory responses.
For this, Honor has leveraged its own homegrown R&D and incorporated cuttingedge features which over the years have dedicatedly delivered multimedia budget superstar phones. Be it the robust Kirin 970 processor, quad-camera, EMU I 8.0 user interface etc. all are backed by this AI technology- giving us a realistic estimate of what more we can expect.
Could you please tell our readers about the number of service centers in the country and the minimum response time do they take to address an issue?
We recently announced the opening of four new exclusive service centers 4 major cities of India – Kolkata, Hyderabad, Lucknow, and Guwahati. With this launch, Huawei Honor now has 21 exclusive service centers pan India. These new exclusive service centers provide first-class support and repairs for Huawei/ honor devices exclusively and are equipped with the best in class amenities providing professional, dedicated one-stop service for customers. Other than handsets repair, replacement, hardware and software check and updates, Huawei exclusive service centers will also provide appointment booking, free recycling of your waste electronics products (mobiles and others) and VIP Services (for select models).
We have revamped our after sales services with over 250 service centers across the country. The company is also expanding its distribution network by partnering with more than 50,000 retail outlets. This retail network will add to the existing 350+ distributors in India to create a comprehensive, nationwide distribution system.
We are currently running a pilot for global experience centers and India features in the list of countries which will feature in the pilot and will soon have an honor sales and experience center. We will soon be launching the Honor experience center in the Delhi NCR region where consumers can experience and purchase their devices.