The world’s third largest phone maker used CES 2018 to re-introduce Americans to what it boldly proclaims is the world’s first “AI smartphone,” ushering in a new era for our beloved glass-and-metal slabs.
Huawei was widely expected to finally secure a U.S. wireless carrier to launch its latest flagship phone and give it a real foothold in the American phone market.
But no such deal was announced during the company’s CES press conference. AT&T was the rumored partner, but the carrier reportedly pulled out at the last minute.
A day before the Mate 10 Pro’s American debut, The Wall Street Journal reported that AT&T had ditched a partnership amidst concerns relating to Huawei’s ties to the Chinese government.
A December letter from U.S. lawmakers noted Congress’ longstanding concern about Chinese spying and “Huawei’s role in that espionage in particular,” according to The New York Times.
Making it in the U.S.
To date, Chinese phone makers have found it challenging to break into the American phone market, primarily because they don’t have strong relationships with wireless carriers.
Unlike in the rest of world where phones are purchased unlocked at full MSRP, most Americans buy their phones through carriers. Over 90 percent of phones are sold this way said Richard Yu, Huawei’s CEO of its consumer electronics group.
Without any kind of partnership with wireless carriers, Huawei can’t get its phones in front of customers the way Apple or Samsung can. It also leaves them with virtually no physical retail presence. Customers who aren’t familiar with Huawei phones can’t just walk into a carrier store and check out the Mate 10 Pro like they can an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy.
Again, this problem isn’t specific to Huawei. OnePlus, Xiaomi, Vivo, and a handful of other Chinese companies that make excellent phones all face the same issue.
The workaround is simple: Sell the phones directly to customers through third-party retailers in unlocked form and bypass the carriers, which is exactly what Huawei is doing with the Mate 10 Pro when it launches in February.
Huawei’s selling the Android phone for $799 and it’s available at Amazon, Best Buy, B&H, Microsoft, and New Egg. As an incentive, buyers will also get a $150 gift card back from the retailers.
The Mate 10 Pro will be available in three colors, including black, blue, and brown. It comes with a 6-inch display, 128GB of internal storage, and 6GB of RAM. It’s powered by Huawei’s latest Kirin chip, which contains a powerful 12-core graphics chip for 3D gaming, high-speed gigabit wireless connectivity, and a unique AI processor. The Mate 10 Pro also has dual rear cameras (12 and 20-megapixels), a fingerprint sensor on the back, fast charging, and it’s water-resistant.
A special Porsche Design variant costs $1,225 and has a slightly different look. That said, PD’s version has all of the same specs, with one difference: it has twice the amount of storage (256GB). This will only be sold from PD and Huawei.com.
I’ve tried the phone before and it’s a rock-solid device. Mashable Senior Editor Stan Schroeder really liked it when he reviewed it last year.
Now Huawei just needs to convince people to buy it. It won’t be easy, though hiring Gal Gadot to be its “Chief Experience Officer” (basically ambassador) for its brand might help. Huawei faces an uphill battle without the support of any carriers and the reports of the Chinese government ties looming over it.
These setbacks aren’t holding the company back from the American market, though. Yu didn’t name any specific carrier or deny a cozy relationship with the Chinese government, but the Huawei exec reiterated the company’s mission to put consumers first.
“It’s quite a big loss for us, but also for carriers,” Yu said. “It’s a bigger loss for consumers because they don’t have the best choice in the market.”
Yu also reminded everyone about how the company worked tirelessly over the last 25 years to earn the trust of consumers and governments around the world through innovations and transparency. “Six years ago our smartphones were nothing. Nobody knew us. Six years passed and we are one of the top three suppliers in the world and quickly growing.”
“We couldn’t even get trusted by Chinese carriers. But we [eventually] won the trust of Chinese carriers and their respect. We also won the support of global carriers in Japan and Europe.”
He then dropped the mic like a boss before ending the keynote: “[The carriers] need Huawei. We can bring more value to them.”
Time will tell if Yu’s right or not. But if Huawei’s really serious about growing in the U.S., there’s only one thing to do: prove it’s not working with China to spy on Americans.