Huawei has big plans to woo U.S. consumers, and topple Samsung, with affordable, solid devices. The first is the Ascend Mate 2 4G.
When Google launched Android, Huawei was the first company to embrace it, Zhiqiang Xu, the new president of Huawei Device USA, told journalists at a June 3 event. "I met with [Google executive] Andy Rubin several times to get the project done," Xu added.
The detail was a way of making clear that while Huawei still needs to introduce itself to many Americans, and clear up some pronunciation issues around its name (pronounced "wah-way"), it's no stranger to the U.S. mobile marketplace, which it now plans to go after with vigor
"This year, Huawei is ready to challenge the status quo by delivering premium experiences, well-made and well-priced devices in a totally new way," said Xu (pronounced "shoo").
On June 12, Huawei began taking orders for the Ascend Mate2 4G, a phablet with a 6.1-inch IPS display covered in Corning Gorilla Glass 3.
It runs Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean), has a 13-megapixel rear camera and a 5-megapixel camera up-front, measures 6.3 by 3.3. by 0.4 inches and has a 3,900mAh battery that can last three days and be used to charge other devices.
The Ascend Mate2 LTE will ship a week after being ordered from a GMS-based Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) that Huawei wouldn't name, when it passed out the handsets at the June 3 event. (Journalists were told to use their own GSM SIM cards or stick to WiFi.)
Xu described the Mate2 as "not for everybody" and Huawei as "very happy to test the waters" in the U.S. e-commerce market.
"The environment of the States is good," he said. "It's more open to the end users being able to make their own choices."
Under the tag line, "Unlocked, Unlimited," Huawei intends to offer unlocked services, unlocked devices, "unlocked specials" and "premium customer support."
The unlocked, contract-free Ascend Mate2 4G will retail for a remarkably low $299. Consumers who preorder the device between June 12 and June 22 will receive a SIM card with a free month of service, a free protective case and a lifetime 20GB of online storage from Bitcasa.
Last year, Huawei shipped 52 million smartphones, said Xu, who announced at the press event that Huawei is officially walking away from the feature phone business.
"When we settled our business plan, we expected it would take a few years to be number three. But in two years, we're already there," said Xu. "But our dream is not to stay there. We can't beat [Apple],” he added, “but we think we can beat [Samsung]."
Between 2012 and 2013, Huawei's U.S. brand awareness rose from 9 percent to 22 percent, according to Xu; in China, Huawei's home turf, it increased from 32 percent to 69 percent.
Huawei's identity as a deeply Chinese brand may be the one thing known about it, by the few Americans who recognize the Huawei name. In 2012, the U.S. House Intelligence Committee warned American companies
with ties to critical U.S. infrastructure not to purchase telecom equipment from Huawei. The brand was founded by a Chinese Army official, and the U.S. government has fears that its equipment could compromise U.S. national security.
(Documents leaked by Edward Snowden showed that the U.S. is itself spying on China
When asked whether there was any need to address the matter, as Huawei begins its big U.S. push, Xu said Huawei's device business is very much apart from the company's telecom equipment business and would say no more.
However, Bill Plummer, Huawei's vice president of external affairs, told eWeek
, "Geo-politics has not been an issue in the consumer electronics space, as it is broadly understood that the industry relies on global and interdependent supply chains. For what it may be worth, this is actually the case in the infrastructure industry as well."
The key words that Xu intends to make U.S. consumers associate with Huawei include approachable, ambitious, progressive and innovative, he said at the press event.
"We are going to be a challenger for the benefits of end users," he added, referring to the lower price points Huawei plans to bring to the U.S. "I think end users are now paying for others companies' advertisements, and that's ridiculous."
Follow Michelle Maisto on Twitter.