Huawei, MediaTek, and the Lower Right

Stefan Constantinescu:

Huawei is a Chinese network infrastructure vendor that once made cheap phones for operators, but then they decided to pull an HTC and promote their own brand. The company has had a lot of success, no one is denying that, but they’re not growing as fast as they’d like.

Huawei repeatedly said they had a goal of shipping 60 million smartphones during calendar 2012, but it looks like they only managed to ship 32 million.

Like HTC, Huawei is stuck in the lower left corner:

Sustainable Competitive Advantages
Sustainable Competitive Advantages

There is nothing about their phones is unique from a product standpoint, and the brand is far inferior to Samsung’s. As Constantinescu notes:

If you’re living in China, and you know that being seen with a Samsung phone will make people believe you’re financially well off, why would you buy a Chinese phone that looks like a cheap knock off?

This is spot-on, and really highlight Samsung’s strategy: the Galaxy S series and its associated marketing enhances the brand to the benefit of their low-cost models.

Meanwhile, truly cheap smartphones are increasingly dominated by MediaTek, the Taiwanese baseband provider. The most recent newsletter from Jay Goldberg has an extensive overview, and is very much worth a read. A snippet:

Mediatek created a new business model for the cell phone industry. They recognized that their traditional customers had very limited engineering talent. These were typically companies with a few assembly lines capable of putting chips on a board and wrapping that board in plastic. None of these companies had the ability to design cellular phone software or build pretty user interfaces. These companies relied on their chip suppliers to provide basic software like device drivers and user interfaces. So Mediatek took all that software work and bundled it into a complete package which they called a reference design for mobile phones.

Mediatek builds hundreds of millions of these reference designs that end up as $60 smartphones. Nominally Android, but with a plethora of Chinese services on top.