Although there’s a good selection of Android flagships to choose from in most stores, Samsung still dominates the premium handset market. At this point, it seems that LG and Moto are never going to truly challenge Samsung for the most profitable sector of the market, which in turn means that Samsung is the only company with the R&D budget to really push the boundaries.
But that doesn’t take into account Samsung’s real challenger — Chinese companies that have outgrown their cheap-and-cheerful roots, and which are now making genuinely top-tier phones, often for less than the $900+ that Samsung charges for its best devices.
OnePlus, Huawei, and Xiaomi have all sold phones in the US before, at least in some form. But all three manufacturers have only sold unlocked devices directly to consumers, which isn’t a popular way of buying phones. Around 75 percent of all top-end phones are sold through wireless carriers, and those devices are normally on two-year finance deals or leases, which makes the cost more palatable to consumers. Basically, if the Chinese giants want in, they need to go through the carriers.
That’s exactly what might be happening in 2018. The Associated Press reports that Huawei, makers of the excellent Honor line of Android phones, will “start sales through US carriers next year.” Huawei is the number-two manufacturer of smartphones worldwide, behind only Samsung, so this has the potential to be a huge problem for the Korean firm.
Of course, it all depends on what the carrier deals look like. Partnership with Sprint, for example, hasn’t done the Essential Phone any favors. But if Huawei can pull off deals with big carriers like Verizon and AT&T, or even T-Mobile, that has the potential to change. A few joint advertising campaigns and some store-front presence could improve Huawei’s brand markedly, and if the price undercuts Samsung’s premium devices, revolution could be in the air.
Bloomberg reported last week that both Huawei and Xiaomi were negotiating with carriers, including AT&T and Verizon, but those negotiations were said to be “fluid” and no agreement was finalized. Huawei has now said publicly that it will announce more details at CES in January, which sets the stage for something big to come.