PARIS: "Even without the United States (US) market, we'll be No 1 in the world," said Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei's Consumer Business Group, after the unveiling of its latest P20 and P20 Pro smartphones here on Tuesday (Mar 27).
His comments were in response to questions during a group interview session asking if Huawei was concerned with its market position, compared with rivals like Apple and Samsung, as well as how the increasingly protectionist market sentiments emanating from the US.
The Chinese smartphone maker thought it had sealed deals with AT&T and Verizon to sell its smartphones in that market, only for the US carriers to walk away at the 11th hour on reasons such as security concerns. Last month, US consumer electronics retailer Best Buy was also reported to be ending the sale of Huawei devices such as phones, laptops and watches.
Yu was quoted by CNBC in February this year saying its competitors are using "some political way ... to try to kick us out from the US market".
"They cannot compete with us on product, on technology, on innovation, so they compete with us (using) politics," the report said.
Huawei subsequently had to distance itself from the remarks, saying in a South China Morning Post report later that month that Yu's views were not representative of the company's.
It was understandable then that the CEO was noticeably more reticent when fielding questions about the challenges it faces in the US during Tuesday's group interview on the sidelines of the device launch, saying it was a "difficult topic" to address.
The CEO did note that while the company could potentially climb to No 2 in terms of smartphone market share in the next two years, "this was not his focus". Rather, he was more keen for Huawei to take up the leadership mantle in innovation for this space.
He pointed to the triple camera setup on the P20 Pro as an example of this focus, saying that bringing such technology - not just the physical lenses, but the algorithm to make use of them optimally, has been "very difficult".
He said of the latest smartphones: "This is a big jump in terms of innovation ... it's not an evolution, but a revolution.
"It took more than two years, about two-and-a-half years," the CEO added, and pointed out the company had poured in millions into research and development (R&D).
CHIP INNOVATIONS TO STAY AHEAD
Yu also mentioned the company's Kirin 970 chipset as another example of innovation, which powers much of the latest smartphones' artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities.
First announced during the launch of its Mate 10 devices last October, the company said the chip's Neural Processing Unit (NPU) allows for in-device machine learning meaning the phone will pick up the user’s behaviour over time in areas such as handwriting recognition and Web browsing.
This has since been extended to the camera innovations seen in the P20 and P20 Pro, such as predictive focusing and automatic suggestions for users to compose a picture.
Yu added that investments have been made to further R&D in its Kirin chipsets, particularly in the area of AI, but declined to give more details on what it is currently working on for the next iteration.
Huawei's ability to design and manufacture its own chipsets via its chipmaking subsidiary HiSilicon Technology has long been considered a competitive advantage for the company. HiSilicon started as a unit within the company in 1994, and became a full division with its current name a decade later, according to a 2011 article by tech news site EE Times.
Yu was asked if it would start selling its chipsets to other vendors, following the footsteps of Samsung who also produces processors, but he dismissed the suggestion.
"The industry is consolidating," the CEO pointed out, adding it could eventually end up being just one dominated by Apple, Samsung and Huawei. "So why sell to rivals?"
He also told Channel NewsAsia that it is not looking at having control over other component parts such as lenses or screens, something its rivals are said to be considering. Apple last month was reported to be developing its own microLED device displays at a secret plant in California.
"We do the most important part (in chip innovations), but we must work with partners too," he explained.
"You can't do everything by yourself."