News analysis

Smartphone makers are taking the battle for customers to the camera space

Phone-makers collaborate with well-known brands to make products with a difference

More cross-industry deals in the smartphone market similar to the recent Huawei and Leica deal may be expected to happen, as smartphone makers find ways to differentiate their products, said analysts.

"The smartphone market is limited in terms of new features and ideas right now," said Mr Cris Duy Tran, a consulting associate for digital transformation at Frost & Sullivan, Asia Pacific. "That's why it's essential for smartphone brands to come up with something new to gain more traction and improve their business opportunities."

Last Wednesday, Chinese smartphone maker Huawei announced its latest flagship model, the P9, produced in collaboration with German camera maker Leica. Its key selling point is the dual-camera set-up, made with Leica lenses, on its back.


Speaking to the press at the P9's launch in London last week, Huawei's chief executive for its consumer business group Richard Yu said the partnership aims to differentiate Huawei's flagship in the smartphone photography segment by tapping Leica's strong lens-making history.

With high-end smartphones becoming increasingly homogenous in terms of performance and features, such collaborations are a way for manufacturers to differentiate their products from those of their competitors.

This partnership comes at a time when consumers are increasingly valuing camera quality as a key criterion for choosing a smartphone, said IDC research manager Kiranjeet Kaur.

Huawei's consumer business group CEO Richard Yu speaking at the launch of the Huawei P9 smartphone in London last Wednesday.
Huawei's consumer business group CEO Richard Yu speaking at the launch of the Huawei P9 smartphone in London last Wednesday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

She said: "Consumers are relying less on other digital and SLR cameras, but instead use a smartphone for its convenience."

Such collaborations between two well-known brands have occurred before. Nokia partnered lens- maker Carl Zeiss more than a decade ago with the Nokia N90 - a partnership that has lasted all the way to its flagship Lumia series, even after its phones were rebranded under Microsoft.

Such collaborations also go beyond the camera, such as HTC's partnership with audio company Beats Electronics for the speakers on a few of their smartphones, like the HTC One M7.

The collaboration between Huawei and Leica will not be a one-time affair, said Huawei's consumer business group sales and marketing president Jim Xu.

"It's a long-term partnership," Mr Xu told Straits Times Digital. "We want photography to be a point of differentiation for our P-series, and I think Leica is the best choice for it."

The Huawei-Leica collaboration was initially a "surprising move" to Mr Tran, but makes sense as a business strategy for both parties.

"Huawei needs to create a new advantage or selling point to keep up with Samsung and Apple, while Leica can increase its overall revenue in a new segmented market," he said.

Ms Kaur noted that Huawei's partnership with Leica indicates its aim to target the high-end market.

"Huawei has been slowly and steadily moving into higher-end price segments, not just in China but in other countries too," she said."I don't find it surprising that Huawei struck a partnership with Leica as Western Europe is a key market for them, and now they have ambitions for the US too."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2016, with the headline 'Calling in partners to ring up phone sales'. Print Edition | Subscribe