Big CES push from Chinese phonemakers, but tough sell in US

Despite several new flagship handsets and ambitious announcements at CES last week, China's phonemakers have yet to make much headway breaking into the U.S market, partly due to a lack of carrier support.
Written by Ryan Huang, Contributor on

A crowd of phonemakers touted new flagship handsets at last week's International CES in Las Vegas, but Chinese companies look to be having a tougher time breaking into the U.S. market unlike their Korean counterparts.

For example, LG Electronics last Tuesday unveiled its curved screen 6-inch G-Flex, along with deals to sell it through three U.S. carriers. Just hours later, Huawei showed off a refreshed 4G version of its Ascend Mate, but did not announce any immediate plans to sell it in the U.S.

The disparity reflects the tough time facing Chinese phonemakers in breaking into the American market, partly due to branding perceptions, security concerns, and their lack of carrier relationships, noted Reuters.

"It's one thing to have the product. It's another thing to have all the relationships, build the distribution channels and do the marketing," Frank Gillett, an analyst with Forrester Research, told the newswire. A partnership is particularly important in the U.S. where the majority of users buy heavily subsidized devices through carriers.

More targeting U.S. market

Breaking into the U.S. market has increasingly been a growing ambition for many Chinese phonemakers. Last week at CES, China's Meizu announced it would launch there in Q3, though has yet to reveal any carrier details. Tech giant Lenovo has also been shaping up its plans to enter the U.S. within three years but has been cautious in making more detailed commitments.

China's Meizu showing off its smartphones at CES 2014. (credit: Ryan Huang/ZDNet)

An interesting change to the landscape could arise with the U.S. entry of Xiaomi. The low cost smartphone manufacturer has drawn the endorsement of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who called it "good enough to break the American market". The hugely popular company in China mainly sells its devices through its own site, without any telco partnerships.

In recent years, major Chinese phonemakers, such as Huawei, ZTE and Lenovo, have climbed into global top selling charts mainly due to a strong domestic market but have yet to make much headway in the U.S. Reuters noted that while U.S. carrier Sprint sold one ZTE handset, and T-Mobile carried Huawei and ZTE devices, these were hard to find in stores and not promoted on their sites.
Huawei and ZTE take just 5.7 percent and 3 percent of U.S. marketshare respecively, trailing behind Apple's 36.2 percent and Samsung's 32.5 percent, according to IDC statistics for Q3 2013.

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