Honor's George Zhao at the Honor View 20 launch event.

At the recent Honor View 20 launch event in Paris, we got a brief chance to catch up with company President George Zhao. Only minutes after Zhao left the stage, the ever-smiley executive chatted to a group of reporters about Honor’s latest flagship phone, and its future aims. Here’s what went down.

Honor’s rebrand and what it means

Honor introduced its new logo at the event, moving away from the signage it used since launching in 2013. Zhao talked theatrically about how moving from lowercase to uppercase letters, and from a fixed color to moving color, symbolized how the company had become more bold and dynamic.

The new logo appears to have fixed colors in most of the images in this article, but it appeared in multi-color variations at the event. Regrettably, I only have an off-smartphone image of this, here:

Honor's George Zhao at the Honor View 20 launch event.

“You can consider this launch a brand upgrade, product upgrade, and also an Honor operations upgrade,” said Zhao.

Does this so-called Honor operations upgrade mean the company has plans to move out from under Huawei’s wing?

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“We [source] a lot of the fundamental technology from the group, but we define and design our product portfolio for young people,” Zhao said, highlighting some of its product lines like smartphones, smartwatches, laptops, and tablets. He said Honor would continue to enjoy the benefit from Huawei’s technology and supply chain.

It seems Honor has much to gain from its current setup, though Zhao didn’t directly address whether the company would ever go it alone. Either way, he’s led it to significant success in just a short time, and with Huawei under the microscope all across the West, I wouldn’t blame him for wanting to avoid any potential blowback.

Honor's George Zhao at the Honor View 20 launch event.

The Honor View 20 and its price

The Honor View 20 is one of the few Android phones to feature a 48MP rear camera sensor with time-of-flight (TOF) 3D depth sensing capabilities. 48MP sensors are expected to be adopted by many OEMs in 2019 as they offer lots of detail at long distances, at the slight expense of low-light shots (you can read more on 48MP cameras here).

I can guarantee, after Honor View 20, many other vendors will follow our direction.

According to Zhao, Honor chose one rear camera rather than the multiple rear camera approach trending in the industry due to the overall camera quality and the implications of its TOF sensor for AR and VR. He believes Honor’s camera setup will start a new trend.

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“We want to set up a benchmark of 2019. I can guarantee, after the Honor View 20, many other vendors will follow our direction,” he said.

Meanwhile, there were questions raised about the View 20’s relatively high price (569 euros, ~$649), given its youth market target audience. Zhao said Honor put this price down to investment in “the best” components and some demanding technologies.

Zhao used the phone’s hole-punch camera as an example, saying it’s challenging to build, which increased cost. “The failure rating is too high, only a few suppliers can provide this display,” he said.

Zhao said the TOF sensor development was pricey too. The team had been working on it for three years and had a very rough model for it 12 months ago when they presented it to Zhao. Honor could have launched a product with the sensor then, but Zhao said he believed it needed more development time.

Honor's George Zhao at the Honor View 20 launch event.

5G, foldables, and the future

Like many, if not all, of the Android OEMs, Honor has its sights set on a 5G smartphone. Zhao said Honor would launch a 5G phone in the second half of the year, but said exactly when and which model depends on how operators progress with their infrastructure.

As for if we’ll see an Android One phone from Honor anytime soon, the company doesn’t have plans for this at the moment, but the door isn’t closed.

Though a 5G phone is in the works, and an Android One phone is an outside possibility, those hoping for an Honor foldable anytime soon may be disappointed.

Folding phones are too thick and heavy.

“Folding phones are too thick and heavy,” said Zhao. He pointed to the View 20 as an example. Currently, it’s a slim device, but were it to fold in half, it would be too big. Whether this is a trouble Huawei has addressed, we don’t know, but we don’t have long to find out: Huawei will announce a folding smartphone in a month at MWC 2019.

Zhao said whenever new technology comes to the industry, he will ask if the customer really needs it or not. “We must bring a really great solution,” he said. It seems like Honor took a similar approach to its TOF development, though I still don’t think that’s truly vital technology yet.

Zhao also talked about its future products more generally. The next step in the evolution of Honor smartphones is considering  how to “replace” the laptop.

“Today, some laptops, the storage is also 128GB or 256GB, right? Now the smartphone is also in this level,” he said.

I believe in the future, the virtual world will merge with reality.

Several manufacturers are also investigating how to close this gap, be it Samsung with Dex, or Google with Fuschia. It seems like a sensible sector for Honor to try tapping into. Whether it has the chops — when other larger companies are yet to crack this — remains to be seen.

The final point Zhao mentioned on future smartphones relates to AR and VR applications, which he thinks the industry is only just finding its feet in. He didn’t mention specifics, other than to confirm that Honor is already working on products in this area.

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“I believe in the future, the virtual world will merge with reality,” he said. It’s a bold statement, but then again, I wouldn’t expect anything less to come out of the Honor brand these days.

What do you think the View 20 and Honor’s latest moves? Let us know in the comments.

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