Huawei Technologies Co. of China plans to sell its new high-end flagship phone in the U.S.—a first for the world’s third-largest smartphone maker as the company tries to grab a bigger piece of the premium-handset market.
On Thursday, Huawei unveiled the Mate 9, its latest flagship smartphone, with a €699 ($776) price tag in Germany. The company said the new phone will initially be sold in 12 countries in Asia, Europe and the Middle East, and be available in the U.S. later.
The U.S. release date is expected to be in January, a person familiar with the matter said. In the U.S., the Mate 9 will likely be sold online, not through carriers, the person added.
The launch of the Mate 9 is part of the Chinese technology company’s effort to sell more high-end devices to take on Samsung Electronics Co. and Apple Inc. in the global smartphone market. The new flagship phone comes with Huawei’s own interface software, which uses artificial intelligence to automatically keep applications, photos and videos organized. That feature helps prevent the handset’s speed and performance from slowing, the company said. In April, Huawei launched its high-end P9 smartphone, which features a dual-lens camera.
Huawei has set an ambitious goal of becoming the world’s biggest smartphone maker within five years, but it has some catching up to do. It held a 9.3% share of the global smartphone market in the third quarter, behind Samsung’s 20% and Apple’s 13%, according to research firm International Data Corp.
As the world’s biggest market for high-end smartphones, the U.S. is crucial for premium-handset makers. But Huawei faces challenges there as its telecommunications-networking equipment has been effectively banned because of security concerns. A 2012 congressional report suggested that the Chinese government could use Huawei’s telecom gear to spy on Americans. Huawei denied the allegations.
While Alphabet Inc.’s Google Nexus 6P, manufactured by Huawei, was sold in the U.S. last year, the Chinese company hasn’t released its own flagship model in the U.S. until now.
It is an opportune time for the Chinese smartphone vendor: Rival Samsung has been struggling with a global recall of its latest high-end phone, the Galaxy Note 7, after reports that the phones caught fire. Samsung was forced last month to halt shipments of the Note 7 ahead of the peak holiday season.
Huawei, already one of the world’s biggest suppliers of telecom-networking equipment, initially focused on inexpensive handsets in China, but over the past few years it has expanded in overseas markets such as Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. The company has also been selling more-expensive phones to boost margins. In 2013, 3.5% of Huawei phones cost more than $400, but in the first half of this year, that portion rose to 13%, according to IDC.
To justify the high price tags on its flagship models, Huawei has touted features such as processor chips designed in-house and cameras developed in collaboration with German optics company Leica Camera AG.
On Thursday, Huawei also unveiled a limited edition of the Mate 9 designed by Porsche Design Group, a unit of German luxury-car maker Porsche AG. The standard Mate 9 comes with a 5.9-inch display, while the Porsche Design version has a 5.5-inch curved display and will cost more than $1,500. The phones also come with longer battery life and fast charging, which Huawei says delivers in 20 minutes enough of a charge to last a full day.
Analysts expect the discontinuation of the Galaxy Note 7 to boost sales of other high-end phones from Samsung’s rivals such as Apple and Huawei.
“This is a rare opportunity for other market players to have an advantage over the incumbent Samsung,” IDC analyst Melissa Chau said.
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