In 2019, the U.S. Commerce Department blacklisted Huawei and over 70 of its subsidiaries, restricting China’s advancement in advanced chip development.
However, in August 2023, Huawei unexpectedly launched its new flagship smartphone, the Mate 60 Pro, featuring its self-developed 5G chip, hinting at Huawei’s breakthrough in the U.S. 5G chip restriction.
The release of this new smartphone swiftly dominated the high-end smartphone market in China, with Apple being the primary target. As Huawei plans to expand the market share of its high-end flagship series in 2024, targeting the domestic market in China, the product is poised for direct competition with Apple.
The performance of Apple’s smartphones in the Chinese market next year will be a focal point of industry attention.
Huawei sticks to a low-key strategy, opting for understated smartphone launches.
Contrary to expectations, the recent Huawei Autumn 2023 Launch Conference took an unexpectedly subdued tone. The much-anticipated Mate 60 Pro, believed to be the star of the show, received only a brief mention, leaving enthusiasts and industry watchers surprised.
This strategic shift can be deciphered by considering Huawei’s established strong brand loyalty among Chinese consumers. Previously hampered by the unavailability of 5G chips due to U.S. trade restrictions, Huawei has managed to overcome these hurdles. The recent successful sales of its new devices in China suggest that a flamboyant presentation of specifications at launch events might not yield substantial benefits. In fact, it could inadvertently be interpreted as a provocation amid the escalating tensions between the U.S. and China.
Therefore, in light of the strained bilateral relations, it is projected that Huawei will continue adopting a discreet approach, with future smartphone releases likely avoiding the spotlight at launch events.
Maturation of the smartphone industry poses challenges for brands seeking innovation.
Despite Huawei’s success in developing its own 5G-compatible chips amidst U.S. sanctions, the latest smartphone lack groundbreaking features. Innovations such as satellite communication or advanced camera modules (with periscope lenses and variable apertures) are conspicuously absent. Even in the flagship Mate 60 RS model, the emphasis shifts to the distinctive ceramic material on the back shell.
Anticipated rise in China’s domestic production ratio.
Before the U.S. sanctions, Huawei heavily relied on foreign suppliers for smartphone components, including RF, baseband, memory, and sensor chips, complementing its self-developed Kirin chips. However, the restrictive policy have compelled Huawei to shift its dependency to domestic Chinese manufacturers.
In the nearly three-year period from the imposition of U.S. sanctions to the recent release of Huawei’s new 5G smartphone, the industry expected Huawei and its supply chain to suffer severe setbacks. However, the China-made ratio of components in Huawei’s new smartphone currently stands at an impressive 90%, with only the DRAM incorporating SK Hynix products.
With Huawei’s return, it is poised to catalyze growth throughout its supply chain. The ongoing trajectory suggests a continual increase in the domestic production ratio of future devices in China.
Source to China Times, on the 25th of this month, Huawei introduced its top-tier flagship smartphone, the Mate 60 RS. The entire supply chain is buzzing with anticipation. However, major chipset manufacturers, MediaTek and Qualcomm, both stand ready for what lies ahead. The reason for their vigilance stems from their previous share of the pie, which was snatched away by Huawei. Now, there’s concern that those gains may slowly be taken back.
For MediaTek, although Huawei’s new phone is positioned as a high-end model, it doesn’t pose a direct threat to MediaTek’s focus on mid-range and low-end 5G chips. However, industry insiders believe that Huawei might not rule out the possibility of launching mid-range and low-end 5G phone chips in the future, deepening the HarmonyOS, which could further squeeze MediaTek’s market share.
Huawei has traditionally used its in-house HiSilicon-designed chips for its smartphones. However, due to US sanctions, Huawei’s market share plummeted, allowing other Chinese smartphone competitors to seize opportunities. MediaTek and Qualcomm benefited from this shift in orders.
Recently, Huawei has made a strong comeback. Following the low-key release of the Mate 60 Pro, it has now unveiled the flagship RS model. After 3 years of intensive efforts, Huawei has achieved comprehensive self-reliance in operating systems, software, databases, and other foundational software. It has also completed the development of domestic alternatives for 13,000 components, investing heavily in the semiconductor supply chain.
The most impacted player in this scenario is Qualcomm, which primarily targets the high-end market. There are even expectations that by 2024, Qualcomm will lose all Huawei smartphone orders. Although MediaTek’s mainstream models have not been directly affected, there’s a possibility that Huawei may strengthen its HarmonyOS ecosystem, gradually penetrating the mid-range and low-end segments. MediaTek needs to remain vigilant. Huawei’s Nova series, for instance, is aimed at mid-range models, and it may not rule out using its in-house Kirin 5G chips to gain a stronger foothold in the market.
The initial stock of the Mate 60 series reached 15 million units, and the shipment target for 2023 has been raised to 20 million units, including foldable phones like the Mate X3 and X5. Supply chain sources suggest that Huawei has internally raised its overall shipment target for 2023 to 40 million units, and the market anticipates even higher volumes of 50 million to 60 million units in 2024.
Industry insiders point out that due to strong demand for Huawei’s products and better-than-expected i15 orders, there are reports of inventory replenishment in the smartphone supply chain. However, in the future, both China and the United States will cultivate their respective supply chains, reducing the win-win situations. For instance, in the RF Front-end segment, Huawei has started to use domestic supplier Maxscend Technologies, which could squeeze market orders for US and Taiwanese suppliers. (Image credit: Huawei)
Source to media China Times, after an extensive promotional campaign, Huawei’s Mate 60 smartphone, which has regained attention in mainland China’s media and online platforms, has finally secured the second position in the Chinese domestic smartphone market for the 36th week (4th~10th, Sep.), with a 17% market share. It is just a 0.2% difference from the top-ranked Honor smartphone. Supply chain sources estimate that by the 37th week (11th~17th, Sep.), Huawei could potentially claim the top spot in market share.
According to reports from “Mydrivers,” Huawei’s smartphone sales have been improving lately, thanks to media and online promotion of the Mate 60. Data from authoritative market research organizations in the supply chain indicates that in week 36 (4th~10th, Sep.), Huawei achieved a 17% market share in smartphone sales, securing the second position in the Chinese smartphone market.
The report notes that although Huawei is ranked second, this achievement in market share comes amidst “well-known significant pressures.” Moreover, it trails only 0.2% behind the top-ranked Honor (17.2%). Supply chain insiders anticipate that by week 37 (11th~17th, Sep.), Huawei is poised to claim the top spot in market share, a remarkable feat considering the significant pressures facing the company.
The report highlights that Huawei’s current sales situation is characterized by a shortage of the entire Mate 60 lineup. Supply chain sources reveal that orders for the Mate 60 Pro have increased to 15-17 million units. Information from distributors indicates that Huawei began comprehensive sales of the Mate 60 Pro in physical stores starting from September 10th.
Analysts had previously expressed optimism about Huawei’s return to the high-end smartphone market in mainland China. The previous Mate50 series achieved sales of approximately 5 million units, and it is expected that the Mate 60 series could surpass 6 million units.
According to TrendForce research on the ranking of 2Q23 smartphone production, in China, Transsion (including TECNO, Infinix, and itel) eclipsed Vivo to secure the fifth spot for the first time ever. TrendFroce reveals that Transsion’s high production output benefited from a trifecta of inventory replenishment, new product launches, and its entry into mid-to-high-end markets. Demonstrating robust production performance since March, the company’s growth trajectory is poised to extend its momentum into Q3. Meanwhile, Vivo (including Vivo and iQoo) is treading cautiously amid a sluggish global economy, which is evident in its conservative production plan: Vivo churned out 23 million units in Q2—a modest quarterly increase of 15%—and as a result, slipped to sixth place in global rankings.
Xiaomi (including Xiaomi, Redmi, and POCO) is reveling in a bountiful Q2, posting production numbers of around 35 million units—a staggering seasonal uptick of 32.1%. This boom can be attributed to a strategic depletion of channel inventory coupled with the allure of new product launches. However, Xiaomi’s channel inventory still runs high, setting the stage for a Q3 that is likely to mirror its Q2 performance. On the other side of the spectrum, Oppo (including Oppo, Real, and OnePlus) also had a fruitful Q2. The brand primarily rode the wave of rebounding demand in Southeast Asia and other regions, amassing approximately 33.6 million units and marking a seasonal leap of 25.4%. With seasonal demands on the horizon, Oppo’s Q3 production is poised for an estimated growth of 10~15%, primarily targeting markets in China, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Latin America, hot on Xiaomi’s heels.
Currently, the top-ranking Honor smartphone is also a Chinese smartphone manufacturer. Originally launched as a sub-brand under Huawei’s product line series in September 2011, it began independent operations on December 16, 2013. Towards the end of 2020, Honor separated from Huawei, and there were multiple rumors about Honor’s independent listing preparations, which the company denied. (Image credit: Huawei)
Huawei’s official website unexpectedly unveiled its latest flagship smartphone, the Mate 60 Pro, on August 29, 2023, followed by the release of the Mate 60 the next day. The Mate 60 Pro’s performance, powered by the Kirin 9000S SoC, has garnered significant attention in the market.
Kirin 9000S Offers Comparable Computing Power to 2021 Flagships, But Energy Efficiency May Lag
According to benchmark test results from the Geekbench Browser, a product known as Huawei LNA-AL00, believed to be housing the Kirin 9000S, first appeared in test data on March 30, 2023, and has been continually updated since. The test results for Huawei LNA-AL00 during this period fall into two ranges. One range is roughly equivalent to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1, while the other is on par with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888. This suggests potential variations in Kirin 9000S versions.
Further analysis of the Kirin 9000S reveals that its CPU architecture maintains the 1+3+4 configuration of the Kirin 9000 but operates at slightly lower clock speeds, with a difference of approximately 10-20%. The GPU is Huawei’s in-house Maleoon 910. However, in comparison to the Kirin 9000, which employs TSMC’s 5nm process, the Kirin 9000S has a larger chip size, roughly 30% larger. Additionally, the presence of a large Vapor Chamber beneath the Mate 60 Pro’s screen indicates that the Kirin 9000S may have higher energy consumption, reflecting the use of a less advanced process than TSMC’s 7nm. Overall, Kirin 9000S is expected to offer computing performance similar to mainstream flagships from 2021-2022, but its energy efficiency might align with levels seen in 2019-2020.
Maintaining Performance Gap with Other Flagship SoCs Will Be a Key Challenge for Huawei and SMIC
Based on available information, Kirin 9000S is likely produced by SMIC. Currently, SMIC’s advanced process nodes include 14nm, N+1, and N+2. Since SMIC has indicated that the N+1 process is not equivalent to 7nm, it is speculated to fall between 10-8nm. To produce Kirin 9000S, it would need to utilize an N+2 process closer to 7nm, which is currently the most suitable process node for domestic wafer foundries in China.
Kirin 9000S undoubtedly represents the pinnacle of China’s domestic IC design and manufacturing capabilities. In terms of computing performance, it lags only 2-3 years behind Qualcomm and MediaTek’s upcoming flagship SoCs set to be launched in the second half of 2023. However, without access to EUV equipment, SMIC faces significant challenges in developing processes below 7nm, and even achieving mass production at 5nm is not a short-term goal.
As Qualcomm and MediaTek advance their products to 4nm and below, the Kirin series will likely remain constrained by SMIC’s process technology, making it difficult to significantly increase clock speeds and reduce power consumption. This situation will lead to a gradual widening of the performance gap between the Kirin series and Snapdragon 8 Gen series, and the Dimensity series. As they grapple with the responsibility of technological advancement, maintaining a competitive performance gap for the Kirin series against other flagship SoCs will be a primary challenge for Huawei and SMIC moving forward.