Huawei Technologies on Monday showcased a series of new products from a gold smartwatch to a smart car but disappointed viewers by not revealing more details about its new Mate60 smartphone series, prompting an outpouring of complaints online.
The event, held in a stadium and watched by millions online, was expected to see Huawei break its silence on the smartphone, which has been hailed by Chinese state media as a sign the firm had overcome US sanctions that since 2019 has cut its access to advanced chip-making tools and crippled its smartphone unit.
The smartphone was launched without any fanfare last month during US commerce secretary Gina Raimondo’s visit to China. Some users and analysts who bought the Mate60 Pro say it uses a Chinese-made chip and is capable of 5G speeds.
Huawei has so far not commented on the full capabilities of the Mate60 series, which is seen as its first major effort since the sanctions to challenge Apple’s dominance in the smartphone market.
Yu Chengdong, CEO of Huawei’s consumer business group, however, did acknowledge the smartphone in his opening remarks when he gave a “special thanks to the whole nation for their tremendous support, especially since the (Mate60 Pro) Pioneer Programme was launched”.
As Yu spoke, members of the audience chanted “far, far ahead” — a phrase that has gone viral on Chinese social media since the Mate60 Pro’s launch as a take on Huawei’s competitiveness.
“Our products have been well received and trusted by everyone after hitting the market. We are working overtime urgently to manufacture more so that more people can buy our products,” Yu said.
But as the two hour-long event progressed, commentators on the livestream began asking when Yu would talk about the Mate60 as he presented a series of new products ranging from a tablet product to a high-end brand called “Ultimate Design”.
By Monday afternoon, after the event ended, the topic “Huawei’s press conference did not mention smartphones” began trending on the Weibo social media platform and was among the top 10 most read hashtags with more than 8 million views. “Why didn’t they talk about it? Everyone watched it because of the smartphone,” one Weibo user Maniler said.
The event ended with a group of people on stage waving Mate60 smartphones with flashlights switched on, as they sang “Glorious Years”, a Cantopop hit by Hong Kong rock band Beyond whose lyrics speak to the struggles Nelson Mandela faced in South Africa.
Another Weibo user said such an ending, combined with the lack of discussion of the smartphone, left him baffled. “What kind of move is this?” he said.
Huawei did not immediately respond to a request for comment on its decision to not discuss the Mate60 Pro during the event and on the social media reaction.
Bryan Ma, a technology analyst at consultancy IDC, said he was not surprised that Huawei avoided the topic “given what a lighting rod” it was. “After all, Huawei had a lot of other products to cram into a long two-hour launch, whereas the Mate60 has already been on store shelves and in users’ hands for a few weeks now,” he said.
Huawei updated its official website after the event to add prices for its Mate60 Pro+, which will start from C¥8 999 (US$1 230), and the Mate60 RS Ultimate Design version, which is priced from C¥12 999. Apple’s new iPhone 15 Pro is priced from C¥7 999 in China.
The timing of event was also seen as symbolic, as it took place on the two-year anniversary of Huawei rotating chair Meng Wanzhou’s return to China. She returned in 2021 after a nearly three-year detention over alleged attempts by Huawei-linked companies to sell equipment to Iran in breach of US sanctions.
The extradition drama became a source of discord between Beijing and Washington. Meng, the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, was allowed to return home after reaching an agreement with US prosecutors.
Broadcast live across Huawei stores, 156 local media and Chinese social media platforms, Monday’s product launch event garnered a big audience, with dozens of shoppers at Huawei’s flagship store in Beijing breaking into applause after watching Yu step on to the stage.
One shopper in the Beijing store, 29-year-old engineer Zhang Nianrong, said he saw the Mate60 Pro as “carrying significance far beyond its value” and planned to buy it.
“The smartphone represents a very important meaning. It means that even the most malicious sanctions can’t impact the development of human technology. It is very meaningful and it inspires us as a younger generation.” — Yelin Mo and Brenda Goh, with Sophie Yu, (c) 2023 Reuters