China's Huawei aims to build an iconic phone brand

Huawei plans to step out of the shadows of mainly making unbranded smartphones

Phone design in China is done much like being served snake, chicken, fish and frog when eating a single meal in the country, according to Hagen Fendler, the chief design director for handsets at Chinese smartphone maker Huawei.

"It's all over the place," said Fendler, who is from Germany. "The European creation culture in food is less is more. Here (in China) it's more is more."

That "more is more" philosophy, however, is one thing Fendler has been working to change at Huawei as the company looks beyond its business of building unbranded phones, to touting its devices under its own company name.

Based in the Chinese city of Shenzhen, Huawei mainly supplies telecommunication equipment, including unbranded handsets, to carriers across the world. Currently the company ranks ninth in market share for mobile phone sales, according to research firm Gartner.

But while Huawei's business has centered on supplying its clients, the company has big ambitions to turn its name into a globally recognized smartphone brand. In the U.S., the company hopes to be among the top five mobile phone vendors within the next three years.

Huawei's brand building has required a shift in how the company sets about making its phones. Fendler was hired last year to help lead this change. He spoke with journalists on Thursday and noted that when offering unbranded devices, Huawei filled its portfolio with a large variety of different models to meet the needs of carrier clients, Fendler said.

"The company wants to have more choices. 'More is more' is put on the table. From sweet to sour," he said. "One of them will probably be feasible for the operator."

But in building handsets for its own brand, Huawei has moved toward focusing more on what consumers want, and developing a world-class design. "I strongly believe within the design, 'more is more' is not right." he said. "There is an important switch of course from 'more is more' to a more internationally appreciated design, which is a bit more reduced."

Fendler said Huawei will incrementally change the way it builds it phones, rather than unveil a full-blown update. A few of the newest Huawei devices have started to carry his design philosophy including its "Vision" smartphone. The handset is built with a curved aluminum alloy body, with the phone weighing 121 grams. It has a 3.7 inch (9.39 centimeters) touchscreen, runs on a 1 GHz Qualcomm processor, and uses Android 2.3 OS.

Outside China, Huawei still has a long way to go in making its brand more recognizable, said Daryl Chiam, an analyst with research firm Canalys. But the company already has relationships with many mobile operators across the world. Huawei has also been steadily building up its smartphone portfolio, adding devices for low, middle and high-end users.

"When you have a strong portfolio of devices, it will also help branding with the consumer and also let the operators know you have a roadmap to bring more devices to the market, so they will be willing to work with you," he added.

But building a brand also means dealing with thorny issues like Huawei's image as a Chinese company. Upon starting his job with Huawei, Fendler noted that he had trouble pronouncing the company's name.

"I think that's a big challenge. A challenge other companies in Korea, Japan, faced 20 to 30 years ago," he said. "We'll be ready to face that challenge."

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