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Huawei shows resilience in SA smartphone market

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 26 Aug 2022
Akhram Mohamed, VP of operations at Huawei Consumer Business Group South Africa.
Akhram Mohamed, VP of operations at Huawei Consumer Business Group South Africa.

Chinese smartphone maker Huawei has maintained its number two position in the South African smartphone market, sidestepping the sanctions imposed on it and other Chinese tech firms by the US and its allies.

So said Akhram Mohamed, vice-president of operations at Huawei Consumer Business Group South Africa, in a recent interview with ITWeb.

In 2019, Shenzhen-based Huawei was placed on a trade blacklist that restricted American companies from doing business with the major provider of network equipment and smartphones.

The sanctions hit Huawei hard since it relied on Google services and other essential technologies for its handsets.

According to Statista, in March, Samsung was the market leader with 48.12% of the market share of mobile device vendors in South Africa.

Huawei ranked second, with almost 24%, followed by Apple with 16% of the market share in the country.

Globally, Statista says Huawei’s market share reached up to 20% in previous years; however, strong performances from rivals and the effects of the US trade ban have since seen the firm fall outside the list of top five vendors by smartphone shipments.

Standing steady

Amid the global challenges, Mohamed says the company’s fortunes have not changed in South Africa.

“Since last year, we have maintained that trend and we are still a strong number two smartphone brand in the South African market, but our ecosystem of products has also started to grow, with our wearables, our PCs and our audio products also showing a positive trend,” he says.

“Towards the end of last year and the beginning of this year, as with all manufacturers and the consumer electronics industry at large, there have been some pressures around supply chain constraints due to the pandemic. So the movement of goods across the world was affected by that, and that surely affected our numbers to a certain extent.”

However, in Q1 2022, Mohamed says: “We started to see a great recovery industry-wide and for our country, as well as the economy at large, but specifically for Huawei too, where we saw a very healthy trend upwards and that has been maintained. So we are still in a quite healthy space as second in the market.”

The company is also making strides in pushing PCs and wearables in the South African market.

To establish itself as a contender in SA’s “super device” ecosystem, Huawei’s Consumer Business Group earlier this month unveiled a new range of flagship devices for the local market.

At its Xperience Huawei 2022 event in Sandton, Johannesburg, the Chinese technology giant’s consumer business introduced the Huawei Mate Xs 2 foldable smartphone, two laptops – the MateBook X Pro and MateBook D 16 – as well as the MatePad 10.4 tablet.

Hard-won result

Nonetheless, for Mohamed, cracking the PC market was no easy feat for the company.

“We had to understand this is a very different market to the smartphone segment. We had to take some learnings and really look into what the channels are like, what is the demand like, and the use cases for these kind of products.

“We then took our pool of resources, technologies, as well as experiences and tried to optimise the most competitive products on the market in respect of the price points.”

The company’s first PC in South Africa was not well-received by the market, he noted.

“If you look back to about 2017 or 2018, we came up with the first MateBook, the first laptop in South Africa; while it was doing well in other parts of the world, in South Africa, it did not take off that well at that particular period. This is because we were a new a new entrant and we were competing with the giants of the industry that had dominated for a long time.

“So as a mobile phone manufacturer, we really had to go into the market and understand better. So we did that and our channel selection started to change and became optimised; our product selection was also adjusted together with the price points, but without having to compromise the quality.

“So when we first launched the MateBook D Series – the D14 – as an example, and the X Pro, which came out a few years ago, within their specific price segments, we became number one or two laptop manufacturer, which for a new entrant in a market is unheard of.

“This is mainly because we didn’t want to bite off more than we could chew. We said let’s focus on specific segments and let’s get the product introduced. I think why South Africans or consumers in general decided to adopt and accept Huawei so easily and start using our PCs is because the PC market in general has become quite stagnant in the last number of years. It has not innovated as the smartphone market.”