Huawei and LG Vie for the Spotlight at Mobile World Congress

  • Lack of Galaxy S8 debut leaves room for Samsung, Apple rivals
  • G6 with no bezel, P10 with Leica camera unvieled in Barcelona

Phone Makers Showcase New Trends

Huawei Technologies Co. and LG Electronics Inc. are angling to steal the show at this year’s Mobile World Congress, ushering in new smartphones that each hopes will fill a void created by the absence of a new handset from the usually dominant Samsung Electronics Co.

A day before the industry’s biggest conference gets going in Barcelona, LG hosted an event to show off its new G6 smartphone with and edge-to-edge display -- no plastic or metal bezel around it. Huawei updated its flagship line, introducing the P10 phone with Leica camera technology and curved edges at its own event on Sunday.

With Apple Inc. skipping the gathering as it has in previous years and Samsung introducing new tablets instead of phones, Europe’s technology mecca is a prime stage for smaller handset makers striving to become household names. Both Huawei and LG over the past years have gone from low-cost, basic phones to products that rival the features of Samsung’s Galaxy or Apple’s iPhone at cheaper prices.

“As the two leading players continue to battle for the top spot, several Chinese vendors have solidified their position as valid contenders,” Anthony Scarsella, a research manager at IDC, said in a report this month. “They will need to find growth beyond their home turf to eventually knock off either Samsung or Apple at the top.”

LG and Huawei will also face competition from two brands with European and U.S. roots. HMD Global Oy, which has licensed the Nokia brand for its devices, unveiled the Nokia 3 and Nokia 5 smartphones that will each sell for under 190 euros ($200), along with a new version of its Nokia 3310 feature phone. Lenovo Group Ltd., which acquired the Motorola handset business three years ago, showed the Moto G5 and Moto G5 Plus premium devices.

On Monday, Sony Corp. and Line Corp., Japan’s most popular messaging service, said they are considering joining forces to develop devices powered by artificial intelligence.

Losing Ground

While Samsung and Apple continued to dominate global smartphone sales last year -- with about 21 percent of shipments for the Korean company and almost 15 percent for its Cupertino, California-based rival -- they both lost ground to China’s Huawei, Oppo and Vivo, IDC’s report showed.

Samsung’s reputation among U.S. consumers crumbled after the Galaxy Note 7’s recall and eventual abolition unearthed flaws in the Korean company’s product safeguards, according to a report published earlier this month. The South Korean giant has presented its newest flagship smartphone at or just ahead of the Barcelona event for several consecutive years, though not this time around.

Instead, the company on Sunday showed two new tablets and said its newest flagship will start selling on March 29.

Meanwhile, expectations that the next iPhone will drive a resurgence in sales have been boosting Apple shares this month. The latest available model, the iPhone 7, failed to persuade as many existing customers to upgrade as its predecessor did.

Huawei, which has vowed to displace Apple and Samsung from the top of the global smartphone rankings in five years, aiming for market share of 25 percent globally, reached double-digit share of smartphone shipments for the first time in the fourth quarter of last year, at 10.6 percent of a total of 428.5 million units, according to data by IDC.

For Asian manufacturers, Europe is a good place to start before targeting the U.S., and that may be increasingly true amid President Donald Trump’s “America First” rhetoric. Cheaper phones have done well in countries like Spain, where mobile subscriptions are sold without a handset subsidy. In Italy, subsidies are still a core part of carrier strategies, but there are also consumers who buy prepaid packages -- and with them phones that aren’t as expensive upfront.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.
    LEARN MORE