iPhone X's next rival may be born with help from black swans

Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 18 2017 04:24 PM | Updated as of Sep 19 2017 11:05 AM

A man-made lake is shown inside Huawei's campus in Shenzhen, China. Joel Guinto ABS-CBN News

SHENZHEN, China - A pair of rare black swans coast calmly along a man-made lake as thousands of researchers in glass buildings conceptualize the next smartphone that will lure consumers away from Samsung and Apple devices that rule the market.

The privately-held Huawei founded by ex-military engineer Ren Zhengfei is leading the charge of China-made phones. Huawei overtook Apple for the first time this year to become the world's second largest-selling brand, second only to Samsung.

Huawei's Shenzhen campus is a rare patch of green in this city that is the world's biggest assembly line for low-priced smartphones with premium features.

"The black swans are a very good symbol. Hey, don't be complacent," Huawei senior director for international media affairs Benjamin Howes told ABS-CBN News. Mister Ren, as the founder is called by his employees, imported the birds from New Zealand.

Huawei is aware that its runner-up status might be short-lived as Apple unleashes its iPhone X and iPhone 8 smartphones during the peak holiday shopping season. But the company is not worried, betting instead on steady growth.

"We don't put much stock on that. We look at the long-term game. We look at establishing the long-term partnerships," Howes said.

Ren, the son of school teachers and a trained architect and engineer, rotates 3 chief executive officers, each with their own expertise: strategy, human resources, and finance, the spokesman said.

For this uncommon set-up, the Huawei boss borrowed from flocks of birds at flight. The lead bird at the head of the V-shaped formation changes from time to time, Howes said.

One CEO can't take the wind at all times, Howes said.

A 'greenery' version of Huawei's P10 Plus is displayed at the company's campus in Shenzhen, China. Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News

Huawei will unveil on Oct. 16 its late 2017 flagship, the big-screen Mate 10, which is expected to pack the dual lens camera that it pioneered with the P9 series from last year.

It has teased the handset with the hasthtag #BeyondTheGalaxy, a not so-subtle dig at Samsung's flagships S8 and Note 8. The Mate series has in the past offered a comparable experience to its rivals, but at a significantly lower price.

Roughly half of Huawei's 180,000 employees work in the research and development arm and around the same number own a share of the company, Howes said.

In the last decade, it has spent 310 billion yuan (P2.4 trillion), or almost the entire annual budget of the Philippine government on research, company data showed.

The focus on research appears to have paid off. The company entered the Interbrand poll of the world's top 100 brands for the first time last year. In the Asia-Pacific, including the Philippines, revenues grew 37 percent last year.

In the Philippines, Huawei is endorsed by Pia Wurtzbach, the country's third Miss Universe. Coincidentally, the company's mid-year flagship P10 and P10 Plus came in blue, Wurtzbach's signature color.

The grit of the Filipina-German beauty queen, who won the Miss Universe-Philippines crown after 3 attempts, fits the brand motto "make it possible" perfectly, said Huawei Philippines senior marketing manager Corinne Bacani.

For future releases, Huawei is building a processor that has artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities built in. Data that drive current AI assistants from Google and Amazon are cloud- or internet-based.

"In the future, they're going to be called intelligent phones," Howes said.