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Vivo eyes bigger market share after ‘hard-fought battles’

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 04 Mar 2024
Tony Shi, general manager of Vivo South Africa.
Tony Shi, general manager of Vivo South Africa.

Much like its competitors, Chinese smartphone manufacturer Vivo plans tointegrate artificial intelligence (AI) across its entire product portfolio.

So says Tony Shi, general manager of Vivo South Africa, in an e-mail interview with ITWeb.

Smartphone makers this year are in a race to embed AI capabilities into the next installment of devices, making on-device AI ubiquitous and available on more consumer-facing devices.

In January, South Korean electronics giant Samsung unveiled Galaxy AI for its S24 smartphone series, which includes AI-powered features, such as AI photo editing, text and call translations, and a new way to search online.

At last week’s MWC Barcelona conference, smartphone brand Honor introduced its AI strategy, introducing a suite of smart devices. It also announced MagicOS 8.0, the latest version of its Android-based operating system, with the company’s platform-level AI.

Oppo, another smartphone rival, unveiled its AI strategy after launching its China-based AI centre.

Shi tells ITWeb that in 2018, Vivo established its global AI research and development centre, which marked a significant step towards integrating AI into its product ecosystem.

“On 13 November 2023, we officially unveiled our X100 series, featuring the proprietary large language model BlueLM, in China. Looking ahead, we will be expanding AI integration across our entire product portfolio, aiming to enhance user experiences with smarter and simpler functionalities.”

Founded in 1995, Vivo has a global footprint of over 500 million usersacross 60 countries and regions. The brand first entered South Africa’s smartphone market in December 2019, looking to compete with already well-established brands like Samsung, Huawei, Oppo, Xiaomi, Honor and Tecno, to name a few.

Smartphone subscriptions in SA reached 73 million in 2022, according to ICASA’s March 2023 reporton the state of the ICT sector in SA. Based on the research, smartphone subscriptions are at 70% of mobile cellular in the country.

In South Africa, Vivo has partnered with all four major networks – Vodacom, MTN, Cell C and Telkom – alongside retail channels like TFG, Ackermans, MRP, PEP and Game to sell its devices.

Shi admits that penetrating the local market has seen the brand endure several “hard-fought battles”. He further notes that one of the initial challenges in entering the South African market was gaining a comprehensive understanding of the local users and market dynamics.

“In the past year, the competition in the smartphone industry was extremely fierce; despite this, we witnessed our ‘year of high-end breakthrough’ in the South African market. Our success in the flagship products has helped us grow steadily in the South African market.

“Data-wise, we have secured a spot in the top five Android brands in the postpaid market locally. We've also achieved substantial market share in the high-end price range, such as capturing over 20% market share with the V27 series.”

Asked if the ban on Huawei’s use of Google Mobile Services has helped Vivo’s business prospects in the market, Shi says: “Vivo has introduced several new models to meet consumer demand for devices with better specifications and cameras. We are working closely with all networks to address the gaps in the market and cater to their needs.”

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.

The local GM says2024 is going to be a “big” year for Vivo, with plans to bring out new products in the local market, including its flagship V30 series.

“In 2024, we are looking to work closer with our local partners to bring more exciting products with more localised design, better imaging system, more intelligent operating system and better performance. With all the new products we are going to launch this year, we believe that our market share will grow naturally.

“For 2024, we are going to bring to the local market the V30 series. Additionally, we're preparing to launch the professional imaging flagship X series and expand our range with more IOT [internet of things] products like TWS [True Wireless Stereo]and smartwatches.”