It's no coincidence that Samsung and Huawei are suddenly showing off notebooks at a tech industry event meant for mobile phones. At this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the Apple strategy of offering an ecosystem of various devices is gaining momentum.
Apple paved the way – and now other tech companies are building up their own ranges of connected devices and services, with laptops, phones, earbuds and tablets all built to work seamlessly together and form one whole.
Perhaps the biggest rival to Apple’s ecosystem of products is Samsung, now upping its game with new notebooks unveiled at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
The company is placing a special emphasis on the smooth interaction between Samsung notebooks and their smartphones such as the current flagship Galaxy S22.
This seamless interconnection and the ecosystem is the "big issue" right now, says Samsung manager Mario Winter. For years, non-Apple users would often buy a hodgepodge of different brands, with phones, earbuds, computers and smartwatches from different manufacturers.
However the rise of the ecosystem model could make the user experience smoother across various devices – if they can commit to just one manufacturer.
Samsung rival Huawei also wants to score points in the enterprise business by connecting up their laptops, tablets and desktops with each other, as well as with an e-ink reader and the company's first laser printer.
Compared to Samsung and Apple, however, there’s a major gap in the Chinese company's concept: US sanctions have rendered Huawei's smartphones virtually useless to Western users due to a ban on Google services like Maps and Gmail. Western Europe boss William Tian argues, however, that for companies, notebooks are more important than smartphones.
For Apple, the iPhone is still the major money maker, accounting for more than half of its business. For years, however, the company has been pursuing a strategy of merging its various devices into a continuous computer experience.
You can start an email on an iPhone or iPad and continue writing on a Mac computer. You can take a phone call on the Apple Watch computer watch - and then continue talking on the iPhone. In the pandemic, the group posted record sales not only of iPhones, but also of Macs and iPads.
Smartphone market leader Samsung is also building on the success of its Galaxy smartphones, Winter says, which he believes help set the company apart. "That helps us a lot.”
At Huawei, the top manager responsible for the electronics business, Richard Yu, says the company is aiming for a "seamless life with artificial intelligence". Huawei has been also pursuing a continuous experience strategy under the name "Super Device" for several years. However, it was torpedoed by the US sanctions, which brought Huawei's rise to the top of the smartphone market to an abrupt end.
Although sanctions have blocked Huawei’s access to 5G chips, Tian says that Huawei was working on its own 5G solution - and at the same time argued that Huawei's 4G smartphones were also sufficient for everyday use. Due to the lack of Google services, Huawei has had to build its own app download platform to replace the Google Play Store.
In Barcelona, the Chinese company was combative. "It is a very difficult time for Huawei, but we will never give up," Yu said. Western Europe boss Tian assured that Huawei would not give up the smartphone business: "We will continue to bring new smartphones to European markets."
Apple also underpinned its strategy with a radical alignment of its technical platform: new Mac computers will run on the chip designer Arm's architecture instead of Intel chips, just like the iPhone and iPad.
Samsung also isn’t ruling out a stronger role for Arm chips in its notebooks. The head of the chip company Qualcomm, Cristiano Amon, said in Barcelona that he wants to accelerate the Windows computer’s "inevitable" switch to Arm chips. This would make it technically easier to connect them to other devices as well.
This year's Mobile World Congress, which ran place March 3, is the first major edition of the industry’s most important gathering in three years: in 2020 the fair was cancelled amid the spread of the coronavirus, and last year only a few visitors came from outside Spain.