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Despite its tiny U.S. market share, China’s Huawei is launching a second brand here

The company plans to start selling a $399 smartphone called the Honor 8.

Huawei’s $399 Honor 8

For a company whose name is still pretty unknown in the U.S., it’s puzzling that Huawei is trying to launch a second nameplate here.

The company on Tuesday is announcing the Honor 8, a $399 smartphone whose highlights include an all-glass casing and a dual-lens rear camera designed to take better low-light pictures.

While the phone packs Huawei insides, including a chip made by subsidiary HiSilicon, it bears little mention of the Huawei name. The word Honor appears in bright silver lettering on the phone’s front and back. Only in tiny print on the rear does the phone say “powered by Huawei.”

Honor began in 2013 in China as a way to capture part of the market that made Xiaomi an overnight sensation. Huawei executives talk the same way about Honor, boasting about thousands of online “fans” who buy products exclusively over the internet.

In China, it makes sense. Huawei is a huge established player, and Honor was designed to offer a hip alternative for the millennial generation. This has paid off; Huawei has sold 60 million Honor devices, generating more than $8.4 billion in revenue.

In the U.S., though, the logic breaks down. Few people have heard of Huawei, and it, too, sells its smartphones unlocked over the internet. That means both Honor and Huawei are essentially pitching the small minority of U.S. consumers willing to buy phones from someone other than their mobile carrier.

The so-called open market for unlocked smartphones is growing. However, so is the number of companies targeting this space, a roster that includes Huawei’s Chinese rival ZTE and Japan’s Sony, as well as Nextbit and other upstarts.

The move to bring Honor to the U.S. reflects a continued, if perhaps unreasonable, belief that the company can have a serious business in Apple’s home country.

Despite being one of the largest smartphone players in the world, and having grabbed a decent market share in some European countries, Huawei has long struggled to make much of an impact in the U.S.

The company is barred by the U.S. government from selling network equipment to carriers. And while Huawei is allowed to sell phones, it has had trouble establishing its brand with either consumers or U.S. carriers, who control the majority of the U.S. sales.

Its efforts were further hampered by a scandal involving T-Mobile and the theft of parts from Tappy, that company’s smartphone-testing robot. But Huawei has remained undaunted and promises that someday soon it will sell through carriers again, too.

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