Huawei P40 flagship phones launch amid Covid-19 crisis

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Huawei has launched a range of new flagship smartphones despite the coronavirus pandemic.

The firm unveiled the P40 phones a day after the firm’s founder announced that 90% of the company’s 150,000 China-based employees had returned to work.

But experts say demand for the handsets will likely be weak outside of its home market, at least in the short-term.

They say many consumers and businesses are focused on buying laptops, PCs and tablets if they are spending at all.

“Smartphones are not a priority and certainly not premium ones,” commented Marta Pinto from market research firm IDC.

“People’s consumption confidence is falling because they are more concerned about buying things like groceries and whether they will keep their jobs.

“Even if you are still buying, because you’re working from home, you’ll probably purchase a laptop and monitor. Or because kids need to go to school online, you might buy them a tablet or Chromebook.”

The new handsets were unveiled via a livestreamed video feed rather than at one of the big-budget events Huawei typically hosts.

Unlike last year’s models, the P40 phones lack Google services – including its YouTube, Maps and Play Store apps, and the Google Assistant – because of a US trade ban.

That makes them a difficult sale outside of China, where Android phones come preinstalled with alternatives.

But as a result, one company-watcher suggested that the firm might actually be in a better place to deal with the consequences of Covid-19 than its rivals.

“Huawei was already pretty much locked out of markets outside of China, and had factored in a pretty tough trading environment for the next year or two,” explained Ben Wood from CCS Insight.

“So, it is other phone-makers that have a bigger shock to deal with. LG and Sony’s smartphone divisions, in particular, were already sub-scale and may not survive.

“And don’t forget, that the majority of Huawei’s sales are still coming from its home market in China, where it’s been selling over 40 million units on a quarterly basis. And that market is recovering faster than others having already endured coronavirus and seems to be coming out the other side.”

Huawei remains the world’s second bestselling handset-maker, but had once aimed to overtake Samsung before the end of 2019.

Founder Ren Zhengfei told the Wall Street Journal that his firm now planned to boost its wider research and development budget by $5.8bn (£4.8bn) this year, taking it to more than $20bn. And part of that is being spent on building up its own library of apps.

“In markets outside of China, we don’t see significant [smartphone] growth,” he added.

“We are taking measures to address that.” – bbc.com

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