Last week saw the reveal of the Huawei Ascend P6 which, at 6.18mm in thickness, became the world’s thinnest smartphone to date. How long the P6 can keep that title remains to be seen, but it wasn’t just the hardware that Huawei was keen to talk about.
Like other Android developers, the Chinese company has modified the open-source OS to suit its own needs. The result is the ‘Emotion UI’ that, according to Huawei, adds much-needed usability to Google’s canvas.
“If you look at generic Android you’ll notice there are a lot of inconsistencies,” Dennis Poon, Huawei’s global UI design director told T3.com.
“Sometimes you have a white background; sometimes you have a black one. Elements are all over the place. So we fixed that, we went to great lengths to fix that.”
Great lengths are something the Chinese company seems happy to pursue. Not yet a household name in the UK, it nevertheless employs 70,000 people in R&D alone. The company has set up 16 R&D centres around the world and, as of December last year, has filed 41,948 patent applications within China and 14,494 outside it.
“We tackle it [Android] on a module by module by module basis. We actually came up with two style guides, almost like Bibles, if you think of it that way, one for UI and one for GUI, to try to fix things holistically,” says Poon.
Following the example set by Android heavy-hitters Samsung and HTC, Huawei is trying to find the balance between the user experience and attractive, headline-grabbing design. Obviously, it believes the Ascend P6 is a step in the right direction.
However, both of those aforementioned rival manufacturers have decided to release stock Android versions of their flagship handsets, the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One. So, the question is, despite all the work put into the Emotion UI, would Huawei consider a similar move?
“We listen to end users, we listen to our customers. If a carrier comes to us and says ‘if you don’t give us that option to switch back to generic Android, we’re not going to buy your phones,’ obviously we’re going to comply,” Poon says.
“But I think it’s a question of demand and supply. From a technical standpoint, it’s relatively easy, you basically just put generic Android on there and get the user to switch, probably in the settings, and there you have it."
So, it’s not out of the question then that we could one day see a stock Android version, or even a dual mode model, of the world’s slimmest smartphone.
But for all the excitement around the Ascend P6, it’s a handset to get the proverbial foot-in-the-door for Huawei. The company isn’t sitting still and this afternoon it showed off its Ascend W2 Windows Phone device at the Mobile Asia Expo.
It’s another “affordable” handset, but packs in some pretty decent specs, albeit using Microsoft’s more rigid Windows Phone OS rather than Android.
However, the company maintains it's developing the intelligence to power the next set of smartphones and believes one important factor is getting out of the user's way.
“There are basically two areas that will develop. One is automation and one is recommendation or suggestion," says Poon.
"Let me take a very simple example. Ok, you move from one city to another, and your phone automatically switches your time and weather information to match with your location. That may seem like a simple thing but I think that hopefully gives people a glimpse of what is to come.”
That Huawei has the ability to challenge for Android dominance will take some time to prove. In the meantime, you can see our initial thoughts of the Huawei Ascend P6 in our hands-on review. Rest assured though, we’ll be getting a full review unit in soon to put the handset, and it’s Emotion UI, through its paces.