Huawei, and its subsidiary Honor, have already proven neither have any intention of letting the politically-motivated restrictions placed on them spoil the momentum achieved over the past year or so.
There’s growing evidence the companies are diversifying their product range to ensure continued success and keep the brand names in the public eye by releasing products that are forward-thinking.
This is happening with new wearable and audio products, a strategy that at first could be thought of as a necessity, but it’s much more than that as it fits in perfectly with the Huawei’s future goals.
“There will be more wearable products coming than ever before from Honor in 2020,” Honor President George Zhao told Digital Trends.
The deluge has already begun.
In October, Honor announced the Honor Band Sport, a quirky fitness tracker that takes the best of its new Honor Band 5 wearable, then makes it more stylish and versatile. The body unclips from the strap — which is made from 100% recycled materials — and attaches to the laces on your shoe, for example.
It’s joined by the Honor Sport Pro headphones, a pair of halo-style Bluetooth earbuds similar to the OnePlus Bullets, as well as a software update to the aforementioned Honor Band 5, adding high-level sports tracking features like the measurement of SpO2 data. Honor already has the elusive Magic Watch on its books, but it was never widely available. This will change before 2020, and Zhao also confirmed to Digital Trends that a new Honor smartwatch will launch before the end of this year.
Beyond the obvious wearable products, Honor has already started its push into the Internet of Things (IoT) with the recent launch of the Honor Vision, a TV-like smart screen for the living room. During the IFA 2019 technology show in Berlin, Honor talked about its IoT strategy for the future, which it shares with Huawei, called 1+8+N. This refers to one smartphone, eight categories of additional connected products ranging from headphones to in-car entertainment, and a wide range of third-party linked devices made to integrate with the firm’s ecosystem.
Huawei’s history with wearables and devices other than phones is considerably longer than Honor’s, ranging from the original Huawei Watch to the more recent Huawei Watch GT2, as well as with Wi-Fi routers for the home, and crucially, the new Freebuds 3 headphones. Huawei’s headphones have previously felt like an addendum on the end of its smartphone announcements, but the Freebuds 3 are much more than this.
“The Freebuds 3 are not just another accessory,” Huawei Business Group Senior Product Marketing Manager, Peter Gauden, told select journalists at a briefing in London, adding that there is “distinct reasoning behind what we’re doing.”
Equipped with Huawei’s new Kirin A1 chip, these are technically superior and much more of a competitor to Apple’s AirPods. They provide active noise canceling despite the open-air design, and each bud has bone-conducting technology for an improved listening experience, along with a clever port to reduce wind noise so clear calls are possible when riding a bike at 12mph. Although they will pair with any Android phone, they use Huawei’s AI Life app to sync, and to adjust the level of noise cancellation.
Apart from the Freebuds 2, Huawei is also splashing out on the Huawei Watch GT2, literally, in terms of promotion. It pulled a crazy marketing stunt in London in October, where a free watch was offered to anyone brave enough (or stupid enough) to dive into the River Thames to retrieve one. Marketing like this is more what we expect from OnePlus, but in the absence of the Mate 30 Pro to sell in the U.K., Huawei is exploring new avenues to ensure its name captures headlines.
In China, Huawei and Honor have a range of devices we don’t see internationally. These include smart screens, smart speakers, routers, and even laptops. It’s extremely likely examples of these, and other as-yet-unseen IoT products will make their way out of China over the coming year.
Smartwatches and headphones are only the start.
Taken individually, all these products and news snippets are normal activities for companies like Honor and Huawei. However, none of this is by chance or a knee-jerk reaction to its current predicament. This is where the “direct reasoning” Gauden mentioned comes into effect. Huawei is laser-focused on its long-term goal of producing hardware and software that envelops 5G, artificial intelligence, the Cloud, and the Internet of Things.
By building hardware that makes use of all the aspects, Huawei’s plan is to lead is into what it calls “The Seamless AI life”, where everything is connected and works together in harmony. Connected true wireless headphones and smartwatches, powered by the versatile Kirin A1 chip, are the building blocks that are possible now.
By 2025, Gauden explained, Huawei expects us to regularly come into direct contact with 25 different connected devices, and that voice will be the key communication technology between many of them. Understanding this is the first step to understanding where Huawei is headed, and we can see the path it’s walking by observing its current activities.
Take the Freebuds 3 as an example. While the headphones cleverly reduce wind noise interference, which will mostly be helpful for calls today, in a few years, this technology will be crucial for us to interact efficiently with a voice assistant. The headphones connect to our phone using Huawei’s AI Life app, which will also connect to other IoT devices to act as a controlling hub. This isn’t speculation, the AI Life app already scans for and connects to the Huawei connected devices on sale in China.
Next, all these devices, potentially including Huawei’s future smartphones, will all operate on HarmonyOS, a versatile software platform that adapts for use in headphones, in cars, on smart displays, and a lot more. It’s not an Android alternative, it’s Huawei’s future, and dismissing the new wave of wearables and IoT devices from both companies as yet another product launch misses the point.
What we’re seeing is not just diversification, but the first evidence of a direction change for Huawei and Honor that puts it on the route towards “The Seamless AI Life.” At first, this may sound like another empty phrase by the marketing department, but when looking at the strategy, its a clear endpoint for a gigantic company that isn’t about to slow down or disappear during a time of hardship.
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