Can Huawei Overtake Apple and Samsung?

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Huawei says it is working hard to overtake Apple's iPhone and Samsung's Galaxy line in the worldwide smartphone market. If you were to ask anyone over the last eight years if that were possible, you would have heard a resounding "no." The marketplace is changing, though, and anything is now possible.

Today Apple, Google and Samsung are enormous, but the rate of smartphone growth has slowed. The reason for the slowdown will shed light on what to expect from Huawei.

Smartphone sales are slowing for the first time in eight years. If slowing smartphone sales means the thrill is over and customers no longer are buying new devices at the same pace, then Huawei will have a tough road ahead along with others.

However, if slowing smartphone sales are due to the lack of any real innovation in recent years, then if Huawei can be the industry innovator, it might be able to pick up steam and wrestle with Samsung for the No. 1 position. That would be an incredible step.

Huawei won't have as much of an impact on Apple as it could have on Samsung. Both Huawei and Samsung make Android devices, so it's much easier for a user to switch between those two handset makers. However, moving from Apple's iPhone ecosystem to the Google Android world would present a much bigger hurdle for users.

Smartphone sales are slowing not because everyone has one, but because there is no real reason to trade up. New features are no longer compelling. There has been no exciting innovation in the last few years.

If Huawei can innovate faster and better, it could grow rapidly and win the leadership position from Samsung. The real question is, what does Huawei have up its sleeve?

I don't see iPhone users switching to an Android device whether it's from Huawei, Samsung or any other device maker. If that's the case, Huawei's growth won't come from the Apple world.

However, if Apple growth continues to slow, and if Huawei growth continues to accelerate, there could be a change in perception regarding leadership in the wireless smartphone sector.

Things can change very quickly. Remember, Motorola once led this space. Then Nokia and BlackBerry quickly took the lead in the late 1990s. Roughly eight years ago, the first iPhones and Android phones hit the marketplace, and things changed quickly once again. Now their growth is slowing, and there is a potential for the next, big change.

Apple and Samsung are the leading device manufacturers. However, there soon could be another switch.

Of course, neither Apple nor Samsung will sit back and watch Huawei grow. They will answer. Why they haven't already strengthened their focus on innovation is the question.

Every day, every competitor must act as though there are others aggressively competing to win their market share. Waiting until damage occurs is a mistake. Once the acceleration slows or even reverses, it's very tough to re-start the engines. Just ask Motorola, Nokia and BlackBerry.

Even if Huawei sees significant growth, it will remain a small competitor -- for a while, anyway.

While that would be exciting for Huawei, it's like saying T-Mobile's growth rate is higher than that of AT&T Mobility or Verizon Wireless. Any way you slice it, AT&T and Verizon still have the vast majority of market share, and T-Mobile is still a smaller player.

It's a lot easier for a small player to grow more quickly -- yet still have a small market share. Either way, the next steps by Apple and Samsung will determine whether Huawei has a shot at the top spot.

If Apple and Samsung introduce something really innovative the next time around, it will be much more difficult for Huawei to grow. However, if they don't and Huawei does, then we soon could see another handset maker gear up and rapidly grow.

One way or another, it appears that Huawei is serious about turning up the heat, competing and winning. I guess the outcome depends on how innovative it can be. It has produced some excellent devices over the last several years, but nothing to interest large numbers of customers to switch brands.

The immediate threat is focused on Samsung. However, the next inning of this ballgame is about to start. Batter up!

E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is a wireless analyst, telecom analyst, industry analyst, consultant and speaker who has been sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry for 25 years. Email him at [email protected]

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