Ina Fried

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After Making a Business, Huawei Aims to Make a Name for Itself in Smartphones

While most phone makers were trying to find ways to sell more devices, Huawei made several moves last year that actually cost the company business.


The Chinese phone maker said no to opportunities to build 30 million additional feature phones, as well as to do more work making phones sold under other companies’ brand names.

“A product without a brand means nothing,” Huawei Device unit Chairman Richard Yu said in an interview at last month’s Mobile World Congress. “It’s not sustainable for the future.”

Instead, Huawei has been focused on moving up the food chain, with high-end products like the Ascend line, which debuted a year ago. At the Barcelona show, the company unveiled a new campaign touting the Huawei brand and the “Make it Possible” tagline.

Building one’s image is an understandable urge. It’s a path blazed by HTC, and more recently by ZTE and others.

However, HTC’s stumbles could serve as a cautionary tale for phone makers seeking to take on Samsung and Apple at the high end of the market.

Yu said even some of his colleagues were questioning his strategy. But, a year later, he said the company has repositioned itself, and the higher-end products have gained traction.

“We are not dying,” he says. “We are still alive.”

Indeed, he notes that Huawei is one of the few companies in the industry that is both profitable and growing — albeit making far less money than Apple or Samsung.

“In the coming years, we will be better and better,” Yu said. “We will do better than last year, I believe.”

In the U.S., Huawei’s push upmarket is still at an earlier stage. The company still builds products under carriers’ brands, and its products tend to be more of the budget smartphone rather than high-end variety.

“In the U.S. market, we are still in the low end and middle tier,” Yu said.

Huawei isn’t tied to any one operating system, but Yu said that “Android is still the main action.”

The company is also dabbling in other areas, including Windows Phone and Firefox OS, but Yu said that it remains to be seen how well those challengers will do.

Regardless of what is running inside the devices, though, Yu wants more people to know — and appreciate — that it is Huawei making their phones. After all, he said, Huawei is a company with 70,000 people engaged in research and development, a firm with deep understanding of not only devices but mobile communications broadly, given that they also make a ton of the infrastructure on which devices run.

“In the past, everybody knows the best products are from Samsung or from Apple,” Yu said. “I want to let people understand the best products (are) from Huawei.”

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There was a worry before I started this that I was going to burn every bridge I had. But I realize now that there are some bridges that are worth burning.

— Valleywag editor Sam Biddle