In Conversation: Winston Eavis – Huawei in 2021
As we stretch our legs into a New Year, we lean in with an inquisitive mind and wonder what’s afoot with some of our favourite tech brands. Kicking off with an interview with Huawei’s Marketing Director for UK & Ireland, Winston Eavis.
It’s been an interesting period for Huawei. For us, the dominant innovator in the smartphone sector, the brand has seen significant success in gaining market share with strategic development partners and imaging industry giants, Leica. The products born from this partnership have been impressive, to say the least, and has positioned them as one of the only companies to provide a real thorn in Apple’s side. That is until they ran into problems with US trade restrictions over 5G fears, at least. Restrictions that saw other territories, including the UK, follow suit.
Most companies faced with this predicament might buckle under the pressure. Not Huawei, it seems. The Chinese tech giant has taken to spreading its wings into other, more lateral areas of tech, and it seems to be doing rather well as a result. We caught up with Winston during lockdown at his family home in East Yorkshire to find out more.
Simon Skinner: Hi Winston. Can you tell us a little about your position within Huawei?
Winston Eavis: I joined Huawei back in the early part of 2017 and I was originally brought in to head up PR across the UK region with a brief to get the company as ‘best known’ as possible. That was quite an exciting brief and I think that we’re well known now, so that’s a tick! At the beginning of this year I flipped over to be Marketing Director in the UK, so it’s great to see that the company is good at promoting from within. It’s been exciting. This is a good place to be and there’s never a dull moment.
SS: How was 2020 for you in terms of the COVID 19 health pandemic, specifically? You must have been kept out of the office for a large part of the year. How has the pandemic affected Huawei on a global scale? Where have the major interruptions been?
WE: Indeed. I’d just started to get used to returning to the central office in London after the first major lockdown when it became apparent that it was going to happen again towards the end of 2020. Happily, I’ve been holed up in the family home, here in Yorkshire, so, providing there’s a decent WiFi signal, I guess it could be worse. In terms of the challenges the company is facing, they’ve really landed on a number of fronts. The specifics of COVID have obviously been one of the challenges we faced, but we also have ongoing challenges in the UK that relate to Brexit and the end of the transition period with the EU. And then we’ve got the US sanctions, which have been quite tough for us in the smartphone market, in particular.
SS: With regards to the operating system issue, tell us about how Huawei has navigated this.
WE: It’s obviously been quite hard and we’ve had to transition our whole operating system over into our native Huawei Mobile Services [OS] and that’s been tough. Actually, the good news is that it’s starting to gain momentum. We’re starting to move ahead and actually, the main thing that’s doing it is photography.
SS: An area that Huawei has always seen as a priority with their devices.
WE: Yes, and that’s because people will trade off a lot of things on their device in place of decent photography and video experience. They’ll trade off battery life, the latest design, etc, but if the device doesn’t actually take the photos that you really want to take and a device hits the market offering the ability to take better photos, you’re gonna want that regardless of what operating system it’s running.
SS: There’s probably not a great deal you can tell us that’s not already been said in terms of the sanctions and the US and it’s not exclusive to Huawei with another major imaging brand recently suffering the same issues in the shape of DJI. The same with Brexit. That’s a gift that will likely keep giving for some time yet.
I think we can expect to learn a lot about what’s been going on behind closed doors in the near future. Hopefully, it will help to restore confidence in the many large tech manufacturers that have been affected by the restrictions. Winston Eavis – Marketing Director, Huawei UK.
WE: No, I don’t think it is exclusive to us and I think it’s probably exclusive to any Chinese company that’s doing good business in areas of the world that aren’t China. Considering this, I guess in some way we should be flattered that we’ve come to the attention of the world’s most powerful man, theoretically. That’s a situation that’s changing. We were seeing that here as well as in other parts of the world. I think everyone appreciates that changes are coming. We’ve already seen some of the wider 5G negotiations around the world have already slowed down or stopped, or even started to reverse. For us, that can only be good and I think people will start to understand the reality behind it all before too long. Certainly, I anticipate that there will be some very interesting memoirs coming out early in 2021, which will likely unveil more of what’s been going on behind the scenes in the White House for the last few years.
SS: I think we can expect to learn a lot about what’s been going on behind closed doors in the near future. Hopefully, it will help to restore confidence in the many large tech manufacturers that have been affected by the restrictions.
WE: I’ve just finished reading john Bolton’s memoir. It’s the one that [Donald] Trump tried to ban. Having learned that, I decided that I definitely had to read it and it’s just great. I highly recommend it.
SS: It strikes me that there’s been a lot of scaremongering around 5G. Trump seems to have used 5G as a tool to divide people and to divide opinion and even scare people. The technology is apparent and whoever’s going to implement it, wherever in the world it doesn’t actually change the nature of that technology and its potential, does it?
WE: No, I don’t think it does. Looking back over the gestation of 5G, I think it’s interesting to consider that Huawei may have been a victim of its own hype in some ways. Not just ours, but the tech industry as a whole. We’ve built 5G up to be this incredible controlling force that’s going to change the face of all kinds of technology.
SS: There’s a common misconception of what the technology is being developed for and the reality, isn’t there?
WE: The negative viewpoint is much more insidious in the way we live, whereas, what it really is, is just the next step on from 4G. Actually, consumers are starting to realise that and when the end-user starts to realise it, everyone starts to realise, ‘oh, hang on this is not going to take over the world, it’s just going to make my downloads quicker’. There was a lot of hype that was built around 5G, predominantly by the operators, of it being this incredible vision of the future. Actually, we saw the same thing with AI to a degree. AI was this incredibly futuristic, insidious technology that would inhabit everything and transform machines into sub-human beings, and all the rest of it. Actually, I think AI has got over that. To a certain extent, we now understand what it does, you know, changing shapes and pictures on your camera or whatever it might be. So, yeah, I think the fear and stigma that’s lingering around the number in the word 5G is going to start to disappear as consumers start to mass adopt. At the moment, a lot of people are.
SS: How is 5G rolling out in the UK and what kind of performance can the consumer expect today?
WE: It’s obviously it’s not as fast in the UK as we would have liked so far. Huawei has made some announcements on that over the past couple of months, which I’m sure your readers will have noted, but it’ll be great and consumers will love it. It’s then that they will forget all about why we’ve been so scared of it, to begin with.
SS: In terms of numbers; facts and figures, what has been the net effect of these elements combined for Huawei in 2020? I mean in terms of market share; not just in the mobile market but also with other devices, [laptops etc].
WE: It’s a great question because, on one hand, we have not been particularly fortunate, having been singled out in some of the ways we just discussed. On another hand, we’ve actually been really lucky. Well before the end of 2020 and into early 2021, [the time of this interview] we realised that to be really strong and successful as a business, we’re gonna have to diversify. That saw Huawei starting to move into areas like PCs and wearables. Those kinds of products take years to develop the R&D behind and we were always planning to do that. Thankfully we now have a breadth of product that means we can bring that through to consumers, along with the headphones and tablets that we’ve made for a little bit longer. That’s been great because throughout 2020 and not just for us, but for the industry as a whole, PC sales have been through the roof. Our tablet sales have been really good and December  premium headphones and premium wearables have seen incredibly strong sales. So yes, it’s been a tricky year in terms of our smartphone business and for what used to be the real core of our business, but now the offering from Huawei is very much more diversified. We’re looking to start 2021 in quite a strong position, actually.
SS: One of the things that I’ve been most impressed by with Huawei is the very real alliance with Leica imaging. We’re aware that this isn’t ‘just another’ exercise in licensing and that you have been developing imaging technologies and advancements hand in hand for some years now. These are the kinds of activities that are really driving the kinds of leaps in mobile imaging technology that we’ve seen to date. What can you tell us about your product strategy for 2021 and beyond?
We’re proud to have achieved DxO scores that are off the charts with our past few premium smartphones, but the journey from here won’t just to be about optical quality as this is already second to none. The interesting steps we’re making now are is to link the hardware with the software. We’re looking at how to work with companies that are already in our app gallery. Companies that we’ve worked with for a while, like Snapchat and Tick Tock. Winston Eavis – Marketing Director, Huawei UK.
WE: I’m glad you’ve understood the richness of that partnership. It is fundamental and we cemented that partnership five years ago. We knew at the time that it was never going to be a simple ‘badging’ exercise. It was never going to be just a label on the back of a device. It had to be much deeper than that. We’ve established the joint R&D labs with Leica engineers working hand in hand with our guys in China. This time last year I visited our labs in northern Finland. Huawei has an amazing lab tacked on to a university up in the northern part of Finland. There’s a whole team of experts, [most of whom used to work for another Finnish mobile phone brand that you may be aware of]. A lot of them have been hired and we’ve put them together with some of the best technicians from Leica. We’ve also got our guys there and I was lucky enough to go round it shortly after it opened, which just happened to be the depths of a Finnish winter, and it was brilliant. A lot of development work they were doing at that time is what’s fed through to the Huawei Mate 40 Pro. The same guys are already working on what’s going to be coming in our second half roadmap for next year. As I said, the things people love, we identified really early on and that people just demand from a smartphone now. Really good battery life, good design and, actually, the best camera you can buy. Thankfully, we can deliver all of those things.
SS: So, these elements are a given. What else can we expect from Huawei?
WE: We’re proud to have achieved DxO scores that are off the charts with our past few premium smartphones, but the nice thing for the business as a whole and certainly for our confidence going forward, is that the journey from here won’t just to be about optical quality as this is already second to none. I would say that, but DxO agrees, as do lots of our customers. The interesting steps we’re making now are is to link the hardware with the software. One thing we’re considering at the moment is how to work with companies that are already in our app gallery. Companies that we’ve worked with for a while, like Snapchat and Tik Tok. We’re looking at the best ways to work with them.
SS: How do you see that manifesting itself?
WE: We’re starting to plug in some of the AI with the lenses, together with the awesome processing power and all of the fun stuff that’s in Snapchat. Then it becomes incredibly interesting and you can start to do things in your Tik Tok channel that no one else can do. How cool is it going to be once, actually, people can be much more creative using these tools, with the ability to instantly share? It’s gonna be hugely desirable, that’s for sure, and that’s when everything starts to really properly come together.
SS: A you saying that we can expect to see some of those partnerships and innovations coming through 2021, or is it going to be in the next two to three years?
WE: I’d say 2021 is completely realistic; I mean, this stuff is moving incredibly quickly. This time last year I probably wouldn’t have been looking to do a marketing partnership with Tik Tok. I ended up working on two through 2020, they’ve been really popular. We’ve got all sorts of categories that we’re going to be moving into, which I never expected to see us getting into, but then I never expected us to be selling half the stuff that we’re selling now.
SS: Thank you, Winston.
Keep an eye on all things Huawei here at PhotoBite and also at the Huawei official website.