China’s Honor returns to the Indian smartphone market
Honor is a top five smartphone maker in its native China. After more than three years the company is returning to India with the Honor 90, its first new device for the world’s second largest smartphone market.
The new handset is already available in global markets, including Malaysia, Europe, the Middle East and U.K. When it was still part of Huawei, Honor operated natively in India. In November 2020, its parent company sold the brand to Shenzhen Zhixin New Information Technology, a firm controlled by the government. Subsequently, Honor’s new leadership quietly pulled all its local operations from India and relocated some of its staff to Dubai. The last Honor devices launched in India in late-July 2020. Soon, Honor’s India wing went quiet on social media.
But the Chinese company did not exit the Indian market altogether. Instead, it partnered with PSAV Global to distribute and provide after-sales of its devices in the country. The firm, which has its offices in Hong Kong and India, started selling Honor-branded wearables, tablets and laptops in the South Asian nation. But for Honor smartphones, PSAV Global has chosen HTech (formerly HonorTech), which counts former Realme India chief Madhav Sheth as one of its directors. It was incorporated in early August, rebranding as HTech weeks before the formal launch — presumably not wanting to remain Honor-exclusive forever.
HTech works as a local face for selling Honor smartphones in India under a licensing deal with the Chinese company. It is set to eventually transfer the technology from Honor Global to India and has proposed an investment of over $120 million (1,000 crores Indian rupees). The firm aims to reach $1.2 billion in revenue, secure 5% market share by December 2024, and begin local manufacturing early next year, Sheth said in interviews with local media last month.
“We will invest Rs. 1,000 crores in setting up software and hardware teams in India along with our service network,” he told Indian newspaper The Economic Times.
The executive also noted that Honor would transfer its patents to HTech, which will work as an original design manufacturer (ODM), producing products for third parties.
HTech has entered the highly competitive smartphone market with the Honor 90, which comes with a starting price tag of around $450 and sports a 6.7-inch 1.5K quad-curved AMOLED display and an octacore Snapdragon 7 Gen 1 chip.
“Only hardware and design differentiation is tough to work, especially for a new entrant. Marketing, managing both channels — offline and online — and picking the right price segment is important,” Navkendar Singh, associate vice president for devices research at IDC, told TechCrunch.
India’s smartphone market grew to 750 million users from 150 million in the last eight years, per the data shared by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in November. However, smartphone shipments in the country have declined in the last few months due to global economic slowdown and local issues, such as high unemployment rates, reduced demand for entry-level models and increased interest in refurbished phones among customers.
The Indian smartphone market saw a 10% year-on-year dip in shipments to 64 million units in the first half of this year, according to IDC.
Given how things have been trending, Honor’s reentry into the market could prove tricky.
Globally, market analysts have cut their estimations due to subpar sales of smartphones from most leading players. “Year-to-date, the recovery in the smartphones market has been slow in coming with many investors still doubting the odds of a recovery into 2H23,” UBS Global analysts wrote in a recent report.
Honor saw a 21% decline in its smartphone shipments in China — the largest drop among top five players — to 10.3 million in Q2 2023 from 13 million in the same quarter in 2022, according to Canalys. Nevertheless, the company saw some growth momentum earlier this year. Honor’s oversee shipments grew almost 4x in Q1 2023 from the same quarter last year, per Counterpoint.
“It is not entirely impossible to find some volumes and mindshare,” Singh said when asked about Honor’s move in India.
When it was still a Huawei subsidiary, Honor faced tough competition from its homegrown players in India. It never gained much ground, especially relative to brands like Xiaomi, Oppo and Samsung. It will be interesting to see how the company, with its new strategy, will be able to gain from the market.
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.