This summer, Huawei supplanted Apple as the second biggest smartphone manufacturer in the world, behind Samsung -- a claim it's held on to as we moved into fall. That's not something that happens overnight, nor is it the result of one game-changing, must-have product. In fact, Huawei has historically failed to create anything truly memorable or compelling. Its success has more been a product of churning out satisfactory smartphones at high volumes.
The company is strangely transparent and unabashed when it comes to device strategy. Last year Huawei launched, well, a MacBook. Sorry, MateBook. Over the past six months, it's also pretty much cloned the Google Home and Apple HomePod smart speakers, at least in terms of general design. For, er, inspiration, Huawei looks at what other consumer-tech brands are doing and then gives the people what they want with a Huawei remix.
This trickle-down effect is more subtle in the smartphone space. To oversimplify, every handset is a puzzle of screen, cameras, processor, battery and shell. But I can't count the number of times a colleague or I have seen a Huawei phone and said something like, "Oh, so it looks a lot like the [insert Samsung model here]." Or "the bokeh feature is just like the iPhone Portrait mode," to give a more specific example.
This cat-and-mouse game is something all phone manufacturers play to some extent. Huawei just happens to be particularly good at it. That's why it's now No. 2 -- that and its aggressive approach to pricing. Whether it's Huawei proper or the Honor sub-brand, the message is usually that you needn't compromise on features or break the bank. It jumps on the bandwagon and starts charging half price for tickets.
Back in 2016, Huawei partnered with Leica, which was/is kind of a big deal. Leica is a well-respected, extra-premium camera company -- in other words, not the kind of brand you expect to associate itself with smartphones. Nothing really changed though. There was no huge shift in perception, though we did begin taking the Huawei camera experience more seriously -- even if the most notable feature was monochrome sensors and the native black-and-white scenes it could paint.
Last year, Huawei wheeled out a couple of routine devices -- no change there then. But this spring, the P20 Pro was announced, and it seemed like all of a sudden, Huawei really came to play. It was easily the best device the company had ever made and arguably the best Android phone on the market, period. Beneath that gorgeous, unique Twilight finish, it was a flagship through and through.
It didn't just measure up against the iPhones and Galaxys though. Its triple-camera system basically set a new standard for smartphone photography. Huawei had become the benchmark for once, and it wouldn't turn out to be a random fluke either.
Cut to fall flagship season, when we saw new handsets from Samsung, Apple and Google. The Galaxy Note 9, new iPhones and Pixels are all great smartphones in their own rights, and there's enough variety in their design and ethos to make any one of them a great buy. And then Huawei launched the Mate 20 Pro.
It took everything good about the P20 Pro and improved on it. In addition to its curvier, more-refined design, Huawei somehow tweaked the multicolor Twilight finish to make it appear even more luxurious. The Mate 20 Pro's triple camera system includes a new ultra-wide-angle lens for what are almost instant panoramas. Throw in Huawei's latest processor and we have another flagship that goes beyond being merely competitive.
Huawei went beyond its rivals with features like an in-display fingerprint reader -- a rare sight outside China. The Note 9 and Pixels stuck with traditional sensors while Apple gave up on Touch ID awhile back.