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Android brands take on Apple in epic battle

Zhu Shenshen
Android brands like Honor, Huawei and Samsung are challenging Apple's dominance in the Chinese market, but will they manage to succeed?
Zhu Shenshen

A 1,800-year-old story, "Three Heroes Battle Lv Bu," is a good reflection of what is happening this month in the Chinese high-end smartphone market.

The story describes the battle between Lv Bu and three brotherhood heroes, Liu Bei, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei, during the Three Kingdoms period (AD 220-280). The three heroes defeated Lv, a general with the highest martial arts abilities at the time.

Android brands take on Apple in epic battle
Ti Gong

An animation clip of the "Three Heroes battle Lv Bu."

It reminds me of the current smartphone market: various Android brands are attempting to threaten Apple's dominant position after it launched its latest iPhone 15 earlier this month, but without major surprises.

The latest iPhones sport a new titanium casing, a speedier chip, a move to USB-C, and increased video game playability. The prices varied from 5,999 (US$821) to 13,999 yuan.

Despite the rather underwhelming iPhone 15 debut, no one can refute Apple's market leadership, much like "Lv Bu" in the story as the finest fighter of his era. Despite their dislike for Lv, most Chinese people recognize his abilities.

Android brands take on Apple in epic battle
Ti Gong

Apple has a dominating market share in China's high-end phone market (US$600) or above.

"Apple will do well (with the iPhone 15)," said Luo Yonghao, an influencer and former CEO of Smartisan. "It has won the operating system war, so it will always win, even if no new items or advances are introduced."

According to International Data Corp, Apple's market share in the Chinese high-end smartphone market (US$600 or above) was 65.4 percent in the second quarter, down from 69.4 percent a year ago, followed by Huawei's 15.6 percent, OPPO's 4.2 percent, Xiaomi's 3.7 percent, and Honor's 3.2 percent.

"As Android manufacturers continue to invest more in their flagship products, the iPhone 15 series will undoubtedly face a greater challenge," IDC analyst Guo Tianxiang said.

When Apple began taking pre-orders for the new iPhones on September 15, Samsung and China Telecom introduced new W24 models, the 16th generation W model, as Samsung's flagship line customized for the Chinese market.

Android brands take on Apple in epic battle
Ti Gong

Samsung's latest W24 Flip phone features a design based on Chinese culture.

The W24 and W24 Flip models are foldable versions with high-resolution primary screens, large storage capacities up to 1 terabyte of memory, and widgets for simple access such as weather, payment, and media.

Samsung, the world's largest smartphone manufacturer, is betting on domestic development with folding models. It believes that "fold is an attitude that reshapes people's interactions and lifestyles."

According to CINNO Research, China's foldable smartphone market grew 72 percent in the first half of the year, with a 99 percent increase in the second quarter.

Aside from strong sales growth, the foldable screen has provided Android suppliers with the potential to outperform Apple in terms of functionality, particularly in the high-end market.

Huawei is yet another "hero" that has created a craze in the Chinese market with the Mate 60 Pro and its upgraded form, the Mate 60 Pro+. People have been swarming to Huawei stores across China, hoping to get their hands on the most-awaited smartphones in the Chinese market, the flagship models.

Android brands take on Apple in epic battle
Zhu Shenshen / SHINE

People flock to a Huawei store in Shanghai to check out the new Mate 60 Pro.

The latest Mate models feature 5G capabilities and a sophisticated chipmaking process. Prior to that, most Huawei handsets only had 4G when the US put tech sanctions on the Chinese company four years ago.

With its current popularity, Huawei appears to be similar to Guan Yu in the legend.

All Chinese people are familiar with the three heroes, but Guan is the most well-known and popular. Guan, a god of fortune, luck, and courage, is frequently found in temples and even restaurants.

According to a recent supply chain analysis, Huawei ranked second with a 17 percent market share in the Chinese smartphone market in the recent week between September 4 and 10, following the sales of the Mate 60 Pro.

Huawei appears to be aggressive, as it prepares to kick off a consumer electronics conference in Shenzhen on Monday. It is likely to release Mate 60 Pro variants as well as additional gadgets such as tablets and wearables, as well as its own HarmonyOS system to connect all of these devices.

Android brands take on Apple in epic battle
Ti Gong

A model displays Honor's new phone dubbed "a digital purse" in Shanghai.

Also, Honor launched the world's thinnest foldable phone in Shanghai on Tuesday night, dubbing it a digital "purse" in addition to a smartphone. It costs 5,999 yuan and 6,599 yuan, demonstrating Honor's desire to enter the high-end market.

In the most recent week of sales, Honor took 17.2 percent of the market share, ahead of Huawei and other brands.

Honor's president Zhao Ming directly compared Honor devices with competing models such as the Huawei Mate 60 Pro and iPhone 15.

"Honor is confident in its ability to compete with the most powerful competitors, whether Huawei or Apple. The high-end market (in China) will have 'three heroes' to lead the market in the future," Zhao said.

Interestingly, it sounds like the "Three Heroes battle Lv Bu," doesn't it?

Android brands take on Apple in epic battle
Zhu Shenshen / SHINE

Honor's president Zhao Ming compared the company's latest models with Apple's and Huawei's new releases.

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