Huawei has endured a difficult few weeks. The threat of increased U.S. sanctions cutting its silicon supply chain, reports that the U.K. is revisiting a decision to allow the firm a role in its 5G plans, CFO Meng Wanzhou losing her extradition appeal in Canada, and related reports Huawei “hid business operations in Iran.”
Given the lack of clarity on any of these issues, this does seem the perfect time for some form of distraction. So, what better than a radical smartphone, designed for its times. Cue the Honor Play 4 Pro. A phone with a game-changing feature to help make its users safer as the world continues to battle COVID-19.
Huawei has achieved fantastic success building up a smartphone brand that, at its height, looked set to topple Samsung at the top of the charts for device volumes shipped annually. Despite U.S. sanctions beginning in May last year, Huawei still took Apple’s number-two slot and held on for a while against the odds. It’s only really this year, 2020, that its smartphone business is taking a hit.
The primary issue for Huawei, of course, is the loss of Google from new devices. This isn’t an issue in China, where Google is banned anyway, but it has flatlined sales in international markets, and that was where Huawei had been busy building its brand before U.S. President Trump signed that executive order.
Huawei’s smartphone sales have contributed huge profits and driven growth as the company has built its consumer brand. But the loss of Google has put that at risk. So it’s little surprise that Huawei has invested heavily in its AppGallery and Huawei Mobile Services replacements for Google’s alternatives, as well as clever moves in maps and automotive integration to provide sticky solutions for its users.
And so to that Honor Play 4 Pro, which is equally clever. Initially available only in China, but then likely to make its way overseas in some form, this is a new device with a radical addition—an infrared temperature sensor. And while you can use the device to check the temperatures of anything, the idea is to self-monitor for an elevated body temp, one of the reported symptoms of coronavirus.
The IR sensor can detect temperatures from -20°C (-4°F) all the way up to 100°C (212°F), and is simple to use. There are now numerous options being deployed to sample temperatures as the world eases out of lockdown and returns to work, school and leisure. This is the first developed for the mass market, though, and raises the interesting prospect of people checking themselves before they leave the house as a matter of routine, rather like a quick look in a hallway mirror.
The Honor Play 4 Pro runs on the custom Huawei Kirin 990 chipset, one of those fabricated for Huawei’s HiSilicon by TSMC and put at risk by the threat of increased U.S. sanctions. Beyond that, the phone is a flagship for Huawei’s lower-priced Honor brand, complete with 5G connectivity and multiple cameras. The device may not be able to carry Google as and when it makes its way overseas—which most other devices do have, but it does have something no other device has.
This addition of a temperature sensor to a smartphone could easily catch on as IR cameras find their ways onto more devices. Beyond coronavirus, it’s not unhelpful for parents and to have easy access to a temperature checker without rooting in kitchen cupboards or medicine cabinets for the thermometer. In the meantime, this will be a welcome distraction for Huawei as it generates headlines worldwide.
Disclosure: My company, Digital Barriers, provides a networked heat detection camera that can detect people in busy locations with elevated temperatures. This does not compete with smartphone or other consumer offerings, nor is it available for sale in China.
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