The World's No. 3 Smartphone Vendor Is Finally Taking on Apple and Samsung

Huawei's Nexus 6P, built for Google, is the first major handset from the Chinese vendor aimed at the U.S. smartphone market.

Sam Mattera
Sam Mattera
Oct 19, 2015 at 7:30PM
Technology and Telecom

Huawei is coming to the United States.

The Chinese handset giant has seen its smartphone sales accelerate in recent quarters, and is now the world's third-largest smartphone vendor. Although it has enjoyed strong success in China, it has been a non-factor in the U.S. smartphone market, which continues to be dominated by Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Samsung (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF), and LG (NASDAQOTH:LGEAF)

That should change in the coming weeks. The new Nexus 6P carries Google's branding, but is a Huawei-made device. It's unlikely that the Nexus 6P will be a massive success, but it could be a sign of better things to come.

Huawei's Nexus 6P. Photo: Google.

Huawei dominates in China and emerging markets
According to research firm IDC, Huawei shipped 30 million smartphones in the second quarter. For comparison, Samsung -- the market leader -- shipped just over 73 million, while Xiaomi, the fourth-largest vendor, shipped 18 million handsets.

In China however, the rankings look a bit different. Huawei sold the second-most handsets last quarter, according to research firm Canalys, behind only Xiaomi, which edged it out by a narrow margin. Xiaomi's handsets captured 15.9% of the Chinese smartphone market  to Huawei's 15.7%. Huawei's handsets are also popular in emerging markets like Myanmar, and in Africa and the Middle East. Huawei is not yet a dominant player in Europe, but its Western European market share doubled last quarter to more than 6% (via The Wall Street Journal).

Admittedly, Huawei does sell handsets in the U.S., but it's highly unlikely that you've ever seen anyone actually using a Huawei-made phone. Unlocked handsets are available through its website,, but U.S. carriers do not offer them, and its U.S. market share is under 1%.

Google's Nexus partners have seen their sales rise
That could change this fall. Google will handle the sales, marketing, and customer service for the Nexus 6P, but Huawei is manufacturing the device. Although it will carry Google's Nexus branding, Huawei's involvement won't be any mystery to buyers, as its name will be present on the back of the handset.

In the past, Google's Nexus partners have seen their popularity rise following their inclusion in the Nexus program. HTC made the first Nexus handset for Google, the Nexus One, early in 2010, before briefly becoming the leading U.S. smartphone vendor later that year. Samsung followed with the Galaxy Nexus, and saw its handset sales surge in 2011 and 2012. LG made both the Nexus 4 and Nexus 5, and then became the second most popular Android vendor in the United States. Asus became a top tablet vendor after it partnered with Google on the Nexus 7.

That pattern suggests good things for the future of Huawei's U.S. handset business. If nothing else, partnering with Google should increase Huawei's reputation among American Android fans.

A new threat to the Android leaders
Historically, Google hasn't released Nexus sales figures, and it's unlikely that will change with the Nexus 6P. Because the handset is sold strictly online, and not through any major carriers, it won't be a runaway success. But it will provide some competition for other phablets this fall, including Samsung's Galaxy Note 5, LG's V10, and Apple's iPhone 6s Plus. Samsung and LG are at greater risk than Apple, as iOS insulates the iPhone-maker from competition within its own ecosystem.

Still, Huawei could emerge as a long-term threat to all three companies. It's provided tough competition in China, and its popularity could eventually translate to the U.S. smartphone market. The Nexus 6P is only one handset, but it's an important first step.