Huawei Can't Find a Mate in the US

Technology PCmag

LAS VEGAS—Huawei bellyflopped the introduction of its Mate 10 Pro phone into the US market, failing to close a rumored deal with AT&T in time for CES and throwing a roundtable with befuddling references to Black Lives Matter and white supremacy.

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The roundtable came with news that Huawei's Mate 10 Pro phone will be sold for $779 in the US unlocked through online retailers, the same plan the global No. 3 phone maker followed with the previous Mate 9. The $779 Mate 10 Pro will be accompanied by a $1,225 Porsche Design version.

The Mate 10 Pro presale starts February 4 at major online electronics retailers including Best Buy and Amazon; it hits virtual shelves on February 18, and will be compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile.

We did a full preview of the Mate 10 Pro back in October, and we'll review it when the US model comes out. Hopefully, that model will be tuned for US networks, as when we commissioned Cellular Insights to test an international model, it performed poorly on an LTE band used by both AT&T and T-Mobile.

Huawei can't become a major player in this country without carriers supporting its phones, because carriers sell most of the phones in the US. In late 2016, NPD estimated that only 15 percent of US phones were sold unlocked, and 35 percent of those were iPhones.

Asked about Huawei CEO Richard Yu's proclamation late last year that Huawei will sell a flagship phone with a US carrier this year, Huawei external affairs VP Bill Plummer called Yu's quote "aspirational," repeating several times that Huawei has "dialogues" with US carriers.

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The Mate 10 Pro's $779 price puts it directly up against its own subsidiary Honor's very similar View 10, which is anticipated to cost $449 or $499 when it goes on sale soon. The View 10 has similar specs, but Plummer said the Mate 10's OLED screen and Leica-branded camera were superior enough to make the difference. The phone may also have a monthly payment plan, arranged by a third party, to help alleviate the $779 price, Plummer suggested.

Huawei's Foot-in-Mouth Problem

Huawei may be the world's No. 3 smartphone maker, but few Americans know about it. That may change, as newly minted Huawei marketing SVP Katrina Dunagan said the company is kicking off a nationwide marketing campaign to get people to not only know the brand, but understand how to pronounce it.

But the room reeled as she stumbled through the company's messaging; Dunagan described a phone for "Gen Z," a generation of kids who appreciate "patience and persistence" and "look at devices as tools, that open experiences." Huawei is adopting Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot as a brand ambassador, Dunagan said, as she "represents being truly not boxed or labelled."

"In this day and age when our culture is all about picking sides and choosing which box you live in—whether you're Democrat or Republican or whether you're for Black Lives Matter or you're a white supremacist—the reality is most of us don't live in those boxes, most of us live in the middle," Dunagan said.

Um, why you gotta bring white supremacy into your phone launch, Huawei? It's a buzz kill.

I wouldn't hammer on Dunagan's slip-ups except that they fall in a pattern of Huawei making political missteps in the US, which end up with it marginalized in the market. Back in 2012, the company was called before Congress and accused of spying for the Chinese government, which it vigorously denies. To this day, US wireless carriers don't buy Huawei network hardware.

Underscoring the depth of Huawei's communications problems, the Mate 10 Pro's AT&T deal may have been killed because of "political pressure," The Information reported yesterday. Members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees sent a letter to the FCC on Dec. 20 claiming "concerns regarding Huawei and Chinese espionage," the publication reported.

Think of a Huawei rep going up in front of Congress and something about Black Lives Matter and white supremacists coming out of her mouth, and you see the gravity of the company's tone-deafness.

The Gadot appointment also feels odd for a US brand ambassador. Gadot is Wonder Woman. She's beautiful and impressive. Chosen to be a brand ambassador for the US, she also isn't American. While she played a famous American superheroine in a few movies, Gadot herself is a proud and patriotic Israeli who does not generally identify as an American.

"Most of the population doesn't live in a world of black, white, left, right," Dunagan continued. "We live in a world in the middle, of collaboration, of openness, open-mindedness, and Gal represents that." Perhaps, but at this rate it'll need a superhero for Huawei to overcome its struggles and sell many phones here.

This article originally appeared on PCMag.com.