Gartner says phone sales were down 20 percent in the second quarter of 2020. These numbers mirror the first quarter as the pandemic rages on.
Phone makers shipped a total of 295 million phones world wide in the second quarter. This compares with 370 million phones in the same period a year earlier.
Samsung and Huawei are neck and neck for first place. Both companies sold a fraction under 55 million phones. Apple remains third.
The relative positions hide a huge shift in performance. Samsung saw a 27 percent decline in units sold during the quarter. Huawei’s numbers dropped almost seven percent. Meanwhile Apple sales were flat. AWhich means the market shares have moved around with Apple being the winner.
Lesser phone brand Xiaomi, which we don’t often see in New Zealand had a 21 percent drop in sales. Oppo, which we do see in New Zealand, but not much, experienced a 16 percent drop in sales.
Gartner says Samsung’s new S Series phones did nothing to revive its business. Huawei did OK in China, it has a 42 percent market share in its home country. Without a strong performance there, it would have seen a Samsung-like drop.
Apple did best
In relative numbers Apple did better than its rivals in both the first and second quarter. Part of the reason for that was the lower cost iPhone SE which attracted upgraders from old iPhones.
There’s a lot of talk and analysis linking the sales drop to Covid-19. It’s true lockdowns and precautions are behind a shift from mobility to home working. Yet phone sales were already in decline.
Some analysts believed the arrival of 5G networks would trigger a fresh wave of phone buying. The faster mobile technology has its charms, but there is no incentive to buy a phone to download data faster. 4G is more than enough for every popular practical mobile application.
Huawei pitches its 2020 Matebook 13 as an Apple MacBook Air alternative. That’s not my words, this is a quote from Huawei executive who said this at a recent industry function.
Comparisons with Apple are a big deal at Huawei. The company wants to be China’s Apple.
While there are similarities, it’s not a direct comparison. Few people who choose one of the other.
Apart from anything else, Huawei runs Windows 10 and the MacBook Air runs MacOS. Switching between operating systems is not something you’d want to do every upgrade.
Matebook 13 versus MacBook Air
How does the comparison work in practice?
The review Matebook 13 sells for NZ$2200 and uses an Intel i7 processor. It has an Nvidia MX250 graphics processor, 16GB of Ram and 512GB of storage.
The nearest MacBook Air costs NZ$2350, had the same 512GB of storage. You get 8GB of Ram and an i5 processor.
Given the specifications, it is no surprise the Matebook does processor intensive work better than the MacBook Air. To be fair, Apple doesn’t sell the Air for this work, the company points power hungry users at the MacBook Pro models.
In testing the Matebook beat the Apple for video editing. Otherwise there was less difference that you might expect give the different processors.
Simple versus complex
If you use a laptop for simple tasks like, writing or answering emails, then any performance gap between the two is academic. The Matebook 13 does a better job with, say, manipulating large Excel spreadsheets or complex calculations.
The MacBook hard drive is much faster than the Matebook 13’s drive. The MacBook Air could send large files to a server in about half the time it takes on the Matebook 13.
When it comes to graphics, the MacBook Air beats the Matebook 13. The 13.3 inch screen has 2560 by 1600 pixel resolution. The Matebook screen is a fraction smaller at 13 inches and has a 2160 by 1440 resolution. If you compare the two side by side, Apple’s display is far more impressive.
Apple wins by a long margin on battery life. You can work on a MacBook Air for ten hours between charges. In my testing the Matebook 13 ran out of juice a few minutes before the six hour mark.
One strange point of comparison is with weight. Huawei’s specification sheet says 1.3kg. That’s as near as it can be to the MacBook Air which Apple’s tech sheet says weights 1.29kg.
When I picked the two computers up, the Matebook 13 felt heavier than the MacBook Air despite these specifications. I weighted them on our, not accurate but still indicative kitchen scales. The MacBook Air was 1.3kg and the Matebook 13 was 1.4kg.
That goes part way to explaining the practical difference, but not the whole way. The Matebook 13 is smaller than the MacBook Air. It measures 286 by 211 by 14.9 mm. The Air is 304 by 212 by 16 mm. Which means the Huawei computer feels heavier because it is denser.
This could be nitpicking, until you put the two computers in bags and carry them around all day. Both are light and easy to carry. Yet you’ll notice the Matebook 13 a fraction more than you’ll notice the MacBook Air.
Small and neatly formed
Both Apple and Huawei take a pride in build quality. The Matebook 13 almost hits the MacBook Air standard.
There are two places where it fails. First, the power button which doubles as a fingerprint reader. Apple’s square Touch ID sensor sits at the top right of the keyboard. It feels like any other key. Huawei’s round button sits north of the top right of the keyboard and doesn’t feel as solid as Apple’s key. There’s a small amount of wobble here. You can live with it, but it shows Huawei doesn’t have the same attention to detail.
A more obvious annoyance is the Huawei Share sticker on the keyboard’s bottom right. This is next to the as disfiguring and tacky Intel advertising sticker.
It’s amazing, computer makers go to extreme lengths to design sleek, beautiful hardware and then spoil the effect with stickers. Many are needless aesthetic wreckers, the Huawei Share sticker is not. It has a function.
Huawei Share lets you connect your Matebook 13 to a Huawei phone. The idea is loosely similar to the features that let Mac owners swap files and photos with iPhones or iPads. When you’re working with a Matebook, these Apple-Huawei comparisons are never far away.
Unlike Apple’s phone-computer integration, Huawei Share mirrors your phone’s screen on the laptop screen. I can’t think of why this might be useful, but you might.
It has to be a Huawei phone. That’s an oddity right there. Huawei may be New Zealand’s third favourite phone brand, but it enjoys, at best, a ten percent market share. If you draw a Venn diagram of the New Zealanders who have both a Huawei laptop and phone, it’s unlikely the overlap would be more than a couple of hundred.
A few last comparisons that don’t fit elsewhere. On paper both the Matebook 13 and the MacBook Air have the same Wi-fi specifications. In practice, the MacBook’s Wi-fi works better over longer distances. I connected both to remote servers via home Wi-fi and saw better speeds on the MacBook Air. I can speculate on why this is, but a proper answer is beyond the scope of this review.
Like Apple, maybe because of Apple, Huawei has gone for port minimalism. There are two USB-C ports and a 3.5mm headphone jack. You can only charge the computer using the left-hand USB-C port.
Matebook 13 versus MacBook Air verdict
You get more computer for less money with the Huawei MateBook 13. You’ll be hard pressed to tell the performance apart despite the specifications. That is unless you run demanding apps. If that’s you, then you’ll appreciate the more powerful Matebook.
Apple’s MacBook looks and feels nicer, it has a better screen and way more battery life. Which means if you don’t need more processing grunt, it could be a smarter buy.
And yet few would choose between a Matebook 13 and a MacBook Air on these criteria. If you prefer Windows 10 or have to use it for work, the Matebook 13 gives you the most-MacBook Air-like Windows laptop experience.
I’m back on the NZ Tech Podcast with Paul Spain. We discuss the latest tech news including current geopolitical matters impacting Chinese firms and share thoughts on new devices including the Samsung Note 20 Ultra, Jabra Evolve2 65 bluetooth headset, Jabra Panacast conferencing camera, Microsoft Surface Go 2 – and a prerelease first look at Huawei’s newest laptop; the MateBook 13.
It was the second quarter in a row to see a drop in sales. Phonemakers shipped a total of 285 million phones during the quarter. This compares with around 350 million phones shipped in the same period a year ago.
Not only did the Covid-19 pandemic hit sales, it closed factories and disrupted supply chains. People were less able to get out and shop for new phones, yet they chose not to order online.
Follow the money
If anything, money that may have been earmarked for phones was spent on computer hardware enabling people to work from home. Other potential buyers hung onto their money as they face financial uncertainty.
Apple was the bright spot. iPhone sales were up 25 percent on the same period last year. It remains the third largest phone maker in terms of unit sales behind Huawei and Samsung. The company’s market share climbed from around 11 percent to roughly 16 percent.
Canalys says the new iPhone SE accounted for around 28 percent of its sales.1 It reports: “Apple is demonstrating skills in new user acquisition. It adapted quickly to the pandemic, doubling down on the digital customer experience as stay-at-home measures drive more customers to online channels.”
The iPhone 11 was Apple’s best seller taking 40 percent of sales.
Canalys sounds a warning note about future sales. It says consumer purchasing power has stayed stable thanks to government stimulus packages. The market now faces problems as the stimulus money ends and expected job losses mount.
I’d recommend this to anyone wanting an iPhone without financial stress. ↩︎
This makes it harder for people who purchase new Huawei phones to find the big name apps. Among the ones that are hard to get are WhatsApp, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and Google Maps.
Popular apps missing
Not having the most popular apps is a barrier to selling phones. Ten years ago Microsoft’s Windows Phone operating system floundered because the world’s largest software company didn’t include the most popular apps.
It’s technically possible to run a lot of popular Android apps on a Huawei phone.1 To get them users are required to do a lot of the leg work.
Some popular Android apps can work through a browser, in many cases with less functionality.
In practice the workarounds can be tedious and laborious, the kind of dreary repetitive tasks that technology was meant to eliminate.
That may not be a barrier to people reading this blog post, it will be a huge problem for less tech-savvy phone buyers. There’s another problem to consider that we’ll get to in moment.
Easier, not easy
Huawei aims to make the task easier. Its main, long term, strategy is a Huawei-branded App Store. Many apps have made it to the Huawei App Store. But there are millions, Huawei says around three million, more apps out there.
The company is racing to fill the Huawei App Store, but that will take time. It needs to convince developers to offer tweaked versions of their software. Huawei’s base software is Android, which means Android apps don’t need much work to make the cut. Yet, building Huawei specific versions is not going to be a priority for every developer.
Petal Search is Huawei’s interim alternative. It lets users search for non-Google Play versions of Android apps. In many cases these can be downloaded from developer sites or from third party app libraries.
While it works fine on one level, it is far from perfect. For a start, apps stores have conditioned users to expect timely, automatic updates when software is refreshed. Petal Search doesn’t fix that. You could find yourself running insecure versions of apps – as if the Android world wasn’t insecure enough.
And this brings us to the other big problem. App store owners are supposed to vet apps for quality and security flaws. This doesn’t always work as it should, but there is safety going through the big official app stores.
Petal Search risks
Petal Search can leave you wandering through the seedy backstreets. It can be risky.
Huawei doesn’t need to worry about Chinese customers, they don’t use Google Play Services. There are other countries where Google is less important. But for the western world, the company has millions of phones in circulation that will, in the coming years, be up for renewal. If the Huawei app experience disappoints, they won’t be upgrading to a Huawei phone.
And that’s the huge barrier facing Huawei. It doesn’t matter how great the hardware is, nor does it matter if Huawei sharpens its pencil and drops prices to bargain basement levels. Without access to the apps phone buyers want to run, those fancy phones are lifeless slabs of glass, plastic and metal. They will be almost impossible to sell.
Although paid apps and apps requiring subscriptions can be extra tricky. ↩︎