Editorial: Huawei vs. Apple At the Centre of US/China Trade War

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Considering both companies’ dominance in the global smartphone market, it should come as no surprise that Huawei and Apple are taking centre stage in the ongoing US/China trade war. From the perspective of the billion-dollar smartphone market, the two companies have come to represent the two countries going head-to-head in supplying the world with staple mobile technology.

Writing for Nikkei Asian Review, Takashi Kawakami revealed late last year how Huawei’s 153 million units sold in 2017 increased by over 30% to more than 200 million units in 2018. In 2017, Samsung was ahead of sales as it controlled 21.6% of the global smartphone market, while Apple was just at 14.7%, and Huawei at 10.4%. Between April and June 2018, though, Huawei took second place from Apple while Samsung remained at the top.

The question is why is there more focus on Huawei being compared to Apple than Samsung? The short answer is that although Samsung is dominating in terms of sales, and Huawei and Apple are right behind them in numbers, the two companies are way past Samsung in terms of raw popularity and notoriety. After Apple released the iPhone XS, most tech blogs immediately responded with comparisons to Huawei’s flagship Mate 20 Pro – and not Samsung’s latest Galaxy model. Culturally speaking, Huawei is taking over Samsung to represent Android. However, following allegations of violating trade sanctions against Iran and North Korea, Huawei’s CFO was recently arrested in Canada. Despite this, the Chinese manufacturer seems unfazed and continues to lay out its plans for the coming year.

Back in January 10, 2019, we covered how the Chinese mobile giant Huawei officially launched their much-anticipated Huawei Y9 2019 smartphone in India. It comes with a 6.5” Notched HUAWEI FullView Display, 4,000mAh battery, 4GB of RAM; 64GB of internal storage, an Octa-core CPU (4×2.2 GHz Cortex-A73 & 4×1.7 GHz Cortex-A53), a 16MP and 2MP front dual camera, and a 13MP and 2MP rear dual camera – all for ₹15,990. There is currently no Samsung nor Apple phone that comes close to these specifications at this affordable price range.

Although the US is putting up a good fight against China with the iPhone, there’s also no question that China is dominating the mobile app market with more and more content aimed at Chinese audiences. There’s plenty of economic and cultural evidence that points to this market reality. For instance, The South China Morning Post recently talked about how China accounted for nearly 50% of all global app downloads in 2018 – for both Apple as well as Android devices. According to the report, “the top five mobile apps based on usage were Facebook, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat and Instagram in that order.” This is based on the 194 billion mobile apps that were downloaded last year, accounting for a reportedly $101 billion (₹7190 billion) global app market.

Apart from the numbers, which represent economic proof of China being ahead of the race, there’s also the emergence of Chinese themes in mobile gaming apps – evidence of its burgeoning cultural dominance in the global entertainment/app market. Asian digital portal Expatbets has three mobile games based on Chinese culture, Dragon Shrine, Dragon Dance, and Emperor of the Sea. These titles are a good example of the shift in the gaming market towards recognising the increase in Chinese gamers. One of the main ways this is being done is through using elements of the country’s history and mythology in the games. There is also a shift in the demand for Chinese games by US gamers. Arena of Valor (know as Honor of Kings in China) is by Chinese game company Tencent, and after dominating the Chinese market (news outlets put its pre-American release numbers at 200 million monthly players) it has successfully transferred to the US market. There is even a professional eSports league for US and Latin American players, with a 2019 prize pool of $200,000 (₹14,232,900). This is a good example of how China is breaking into the US app market, as there is no US game that is the equivalent in terms of downloads or global cultural dominance.

These mobile cultural milestones are important because even though Samsung dominates sales numbers, both Huawei and Apple continue to be the two trendiest brands in the market. And they did it by providing both cultural and technological innovations that consumers are yet to see from Samsung. As Trump’s trade war with China continues to shake up the international market, both Huawei and Apple will continue to be key indicators of how either China or the US is doing on a global scale.

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