Returning to Paris for the second-year running is Huawei’s perennial P series. The attention this year is placed squarely on new mobile photography capabilities of this premium smartphone design, which is highlighted by Huawei’s marketing theme this year to “rewrite the rules of photography.” With this launch, Huawei delivers on that promise, by introducing features that are truly first-to-market for smartphones.
Huawei in the smartphone market
Huawei ranked second among global smartphone manufacturers, shipping 206.1 million units in 2018, compared to 204.7 million units shipped by Apple. Huawei still lags behind Samsung’s 289.9 million units, but the company is set to further grow unit shipments to 226.8 million units in 2019, solidifying its second-ranked position in the market.
With today’s launch, Huawei continues the path the company has been working on for the last few years. Its success in Europe helps limit the immediate impact of pressures the company faces from the United States government. In the short term, there does not appear to be a solution to this situation in the U.S., and Huawei will continue to focus on its existing businesses.
Brand building and investments in differentiated design and hardware features started to pay off in earnest last year. With the P30 series, Huawei is laying the foundation for another growth year in the smartphone market in 2019.
The P30 series looks primed to continue Huawei’s success with the P20 series from last year. That range shipped 30.8 million units in 2018. With these additional enhancements, and Huawei’s continued success at home and overseas, the latest devices should be to deliver a repeat success.
Folded optics technology
While OPPO showcased similar technology in 2017 and again at MWC19 this year, Huawei becomes the first smartphone maker to put into production a folded optics design that enables lossless optical zoom photography in a smartphone – resolving the problem of images with lower resolution created by conventional digital zoom. The 5x periscopic design allows for the lengthy optical column to be fitted along the width of the larger P30 Pro chassis, by essentially folding the optical path 90 degrees. In doing so, the new design allows the periscopic zoom lens to work in conjunction with the primary 40 megapixel (MP), wide and time-of-flight (TOF) cameras to produce a maximum 10x hybrid zoom.
Other stand-out features of the P30 series are the following:
- Electro-magnetic induction speaker (display speaker), which negates the need for a speaker grill at the top of the device and helps support the IP68 rating
- Class-leading high-ISO sensitivity of 204,800 and 409,600 for the P30 and P30 Pro, respectively
- New RYYB “super spectrum” 40MP primary camera image sensor, which captures 40 percent more light
- Time-of-flight sensor used as the fourth camera, for enhanced depth sensing (used in portrait photography and artificial-reality (AI) applications)
- Low light videos, dual video capability (over-the-air update required)
- Optical in-screen fingerprint sensor, replacing the previous physical sensor and creating additional screen real estate
- Kirin 980 system-on-chip (SoC) inherited from Mate 20 series with 4200mAh and 3650mAh batteries for P30 Pro and P30, respectively.
- 40 watt (W) wired supercharge (70 percent in 30 minutes) as well as 15W wireless (Qi) charging
- Pricing starts at €799 for the P30 with 6GB RAM/128GB memory configuration. The P30 Pro starts at €999 (8GB/128GB) and goes to €1099 (8GB/256GB) and €1249 (8GB/512GB).
Mobile photography innovations
Last year, Huawei’s P20 series camera innovations addressed low-light photography with a novel “night” mode, which leveraged AI and long exposures to capture images in truly dark environments. This innovation preceded that of Google’s Pixel, which worked on the same principles and set a new industry standard. This year, Huawei focused on addressing the consumer desire to use digital zoom to get closer to their subjects.
With conventional digital-zoom cameras, users rely on the sheer camera resolution to extrapolate a higher optical focal length. The resulting image is often a blurred and noisy photo containing a fraction of the information captured with a full-frame image. Physically, all digital-zoom images are essentially cropped images from the primary camera.
Adding to the challenge of digital-zoom photography is the shaking introduced by a user’s hand. Smartphone manufactures are using AI to cancel out this additional noise, but AI does not address the fundamentals of a lossy image capture.
With a true optical-zoom camera, the optical information is no longer cropped, so it presents a lossless image capture. However, periscopic lenses are challenged by reduced light intensity, as the tighter optics squeezes the amount of available light. To compensate for this physical challenge, Huawei employs a hybrid-zoom approach that augments the 125mm f/3.4 periscopic lens with information from the primary camera, supported by a 40MP RYYB sensor. Using the complete four-camera system of the P30 Pro, Huawei is able to achieve a “hybrid-10x” zoom, which yields better image resolution than a traditional 10x digital zoom on a single 40MP sensor.
After years of smartphone innovation around full screen, bezel-less -- and ultimately foldable -- designs, the industry is now shifting to other areas of design innovation. The mobile smartphone camera is the most impactful and significant camera for consumers. It is, in fact, the second-most important device feature after the display.
Previous camera innovations centered around the creation of portrait photography (introducing background blur or bokeh). This innovation was highlighted with either dual-pixel sensor technology or dual-optical camera designs.
The application of AI added to the imaging innovation conversation, as HDR, scene composition, improved low-light capabilities and other concepts were established using existing camera hardware.
However, to push further into the realm of matching conventional digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera imaging capabilities, new camera designs are required. The Huawei P30 Pro is the first model to lead this charge, but others are expected to follow in quick succession. For example, OPPO’s upcoming Reno device, will leverage the company’s periscopic photography collaboration with Corephotonics. The IP Huawei is using for their P30 Pro is not currently identified. Given that Corephotonics has been acquired by Samsung, IHS Markit expects fierce competition in this smartphone design area in the coming months and years.
The excitement around mobile photography innovations is good news for the smartphone industry, as it attempts to fend off stagnant sales forecasts. Both Huawei and Samsung are investing heavily in mobile photography improvements, while Apple has arguably been left behind in the current design cycle by their two top rivals
Huawei is exhibiting confidence in its photography technology, comparing its P30 devices directly to the latest devices from Apple and Samsung – on stage and while naming each device. The success of the P20 series has put Huawei in a leadership position, which the company is now expanding on.
Other radical mobile photography designs are also bringing new ideas to the market, with the likes of Nokia (HMD)/Light.co with their five-lens, selectable depth-of-focus camera and the proliferation of time-of-flight and other novel optical sensors. Ultimately, competition breeds better products, and this next wave of mobile photography innovations should give the industry confidence that smartphone innovations have longer legs than the naysayers have proclaimed.