Huawei has once again confirmed that it has no plans to sell Kirin-branded processors to other smartphone makers. Speaking to tech journalists in Bangalore on Friday, Brody Ji, Senior Product Director, Huawei Consumer Business Group, denied reports of the company planning to sell its Kirin processors to other smartphone makers.
“For Huawei, Kirin is not a business but a product or technology that acts as our competitive edge against rival smartphone brands,” Brody told the media. According to IDC, Huawei and its online-only brand Honor sold over 173 million smartphones in the past four quarters. Most of these devices are powered by company’s own Kirin chipsets but it also sells several models powered by San Diego-based Qualcomm made chipsets in countries like India. Brody told BGR India that the company will stick to this model where most of its premium and mid-range devices will be powered by Kirin chipsets, alongside more affordable models powered by Qualcomm processors.
HiSilicon, the company that develops and manufactures SoCs, was founded by Huawei in 2004. However, the company did not conceive the idea of designing chipsets for its mobile devices until 2011. Richard Yu, who became the chief of Huawei’s Consumer Business Group in 2011, spearheaded the idea of designing SoCs for mobile devices, by licensing CPU designs from SoftBank-owned ARM Holdings.
Huawei, despite being the leader in telecom equipment, is largely considered a laggard in the consumer electronics business. At the company’s annual Huawei Analyst Summit in 2016, its then rotating CEO Eric Xu said that the company needs to put more efforts into consumer business and stated that someday the consumer business group will overtake the consumer network business group in terms of revenue.
In 2017, Huawei reported operating revenue of $92 billion but the company claims to achieved $100 billion in revenue during the first half of this year alone. A large part of that growth in revenue can be owed to demand for 5G telecom equipment and growth in shipments of consumer electronic devices. During the second quarter of 2018, IDC reported that Huawei beat Apple to become the second-largest smartphone brand in the world and Richard Yu recently claimed that his company aims to ship 200 million units during this year.
In order to maintain sustained momentum for its smartphones, Brody believes that Huawei needs to invest and develop its own chipsets under the Kirin brand. At IFA 2018 in Berlin last month, Huawei unveiled the Kirin 980, its flagship CPU based on 7nm process. The new 7nm process allows chip designers to pack in more transistors into a smaller footprint and yet improves efficiency. The Kirin 980 ditches the dual-cluster design in favor of a tri-cluster design that runs two high-performance Cortex A76 CPUs at 2.6GHz, two mid-performance Cortex A76 CPUs at 1.92GHz and four power-efficient Cortex A55 CPUs at 1.8GHz.
The Kirin 980 is built using TSMC’s 7nm process also deployed by Apple in the design of A12 Bionic chipset. Brody adds that Huawei’s silicon team started work on Kirin 980 almost three years ago and the development involved research engineers across locations like China, India and the United States. While Huawei announced the Kirin 980 as the first processor based on 7nm process, Apple managed to beat the Chinese tech giant by launching iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max as the first devices in the market with a 7nm SoC.
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However, Huawei does not see Apple as its real competitor in the chip business; its real competitors are Qualcomm and Samsung. Neither Qualcomm nor Samsung have announced their own versions of chipsets built using the 7nm process. With the Kirin 980, Huawei certainly has an edge in terms of performance and efficiency. Huawei’s first devices powered by Kirin 980 SoC – the Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro – will be launched in London on October 16.
The company also confirmed that it will launch the Kirin 980-powered smartphones in India during the fourth quarter of 2018. For the last few years, Huawei was trying hard to challenge Qualcomm and Samsung in the chip business but with the Kirin 980, it is preparing to fight with Apple as well. Brody adds that Apple’s chip design is superior but in the coming years, the company hopes to catch up with all the leading chip manufacturers, as it aims to expand into the smart home segment.