Huawei's Media Tour, and Why We Went

When it comes to companies based in China, the obvious tropes of secrecy come into play. Most companies want some level of secrecy, but some have abstracted themselves through PR firms to avoid direct media contact. Despite these companies being big behemoths in their own market, with a back-thought to large towns of 10,000+ people devoted to one factory, access from our side of the fence can be limited. In order to get that access, and to meet face to face, typically requires an invite to their facilities purely on their terms: they fly you out and they dictate what you see during that trip.

For those journalists in the industry reading this, some of you may have come across recent critiques from both inside the tech press and from readers about these trips, as a form of payola to generate content that flatters the company and whether this is an ethical process at all, as the journalist or editor is accepting a ‘free trip’ which could cloud their future judgement. There have been many situations when a ‘free trip’ becomes a series of posts or ‘look at what we did’ videos, without any critical analysis or development to the industry (or any clarification of who paid for which product placement, which can be deceptive at best).

But with the right attitude, depending on the journalists or editors you follow and trust, one can retain the element of editorial independence when getting involved in this. As mentioned already, the crucial part of accepting these trip offers is to talk to and understand the people that matter most, in a process to open doors for the future, and for some of these companies, taking that media tour when offered is that process. If you don’t take that step, then the relationship stagnates, and as a journalist you end up pumping out more of the same, rather than trying to be the best you can be and generate the sort of traffic that makes who you write for unique.

This sounds like a boring setup to an opinion piece on ethics in technology journalism, but I promise it is not. But these are the foundations on which AnandTech accepts any ‘paid for’ trip, along with maintaining editorial independence but focusing on the relationship, and circumstances evolved recently such that one of the companies we’ve wanted to probe in more detail for a while gave us that opportunity this November. In 2015, Huawei, through their PR companies and contractors, has been giving short media tours of its technology facilities to small groups of journalists this year, as well as group interviews with important VPs up and down the chain. Note that at the top of the piece I mentioned that these trips are dictated by the company involved, so we were under no disillusion of the circumstances which would be presented (I can’t fault someone from doing their job in all honesty), but Andrei and I made our way to both Shenzhen and Beijing as part of the media tour. Needless to say, we requested meetings with the technical teams right away.


Examples of HiSilicon/Huawei's Custom Silicon

The Tour

From first contact, the travel arrangements for the tour changed multiple times, from visiting factories and research facilities in Shenzhen/Dongguan followed by R&D tours in Shanghai, to a day with six or seven VPs for 1-on-1 discussions, to a new Kirin family release in Beijing. In the end, the tour started in Shenzhen at a very typical set of smartphone testing labs in nearby Dongguan, followed by a flight to Beijing for the Kirin release and further interviews and discussions. During this time, we spoke in depth with Mengran Duan, the president of Huawei’s watch products, a tour of Huawei’s device testing labs, discussions with Bruce Lee, VP of the Handset Product Line, and the announcement of the Kirin 950. Beyond this there were discussions that we cannot talk about at this time, but for the benefit of our readers they were certainly fruitful and should offer us more perspective (and routes for information) in future Huawei-related discussions.

The US Media Tour group – spot your favorite editors

To add an element of amusement in the mix, as with any Trade Show such as CES and Computex, a lot of companies are free-flowing with goodie bags. Most of it is normally junk that’s thrown away almost immediately (I have a dozen mousepads I don’t need, and even more USB sticks of ex-product kits). All of it is designed to curry the favor of the journalist and to butter them up with freebies (so keep an eye on the journalists you trust), but sometimes there’s a high quality notepad or something worth keeping or passing on. Similar to Huawei’s previous media trips earlier this year, they sampled the tour participants with their latest US-based handset (which we’ll review) as well as a small wearable extra - the handset was augmented with the Talkband B2 wearable and the above framed memento of the group of media during the trip. We also asked about how Huawei will be sourcing the first Kirin 950 devices on the market, namely the Mate 8, and were told to keep our email clients open for details when the time comes around.

Huawei, A Perspective It’s Just Another Smartphone Factory™
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  • s.yu - Sunday, December 6, 2015 - link

    Why you certainly hold yourself to high standards! If you have $1000, you could try to get dirty rich with it, or you could try to fulfill some proper dream and make yourself some money in the progress. Their business practices make it very clear that they're preying off the ignorance of the masses, and they try very little to conceal it. That's why it's repulsive.
  • buhusky - Friday, December 4, 2015 - link

    Did you bring a burner phone and laptop with you?
  • tipoo - Friday, December 4, 2015 - link

    I agree with this entirely -

    "My argument was slightly different, especially if we compare to the industries I regularly write about; from my perspective, I’d prefer to test the popular devices. With a $600 smartphone, everyone has an opinion on the design, the hardware, the benchmark results, or simply fanboyism, but not everyone has $600 to spend. While a lot of users might discuss the virtues online, or debate over small details, the reality is that a good portion will opt for something around the $250-$300 range for their main device or family devices, depending on contract, region, availability and other features. This is similar to when we get $2000 laptops, or $500 motherboards – lots of discussion, but in reality fewer people will buy them and go for the $800 2-in-1s or sub-$160 motherboards."

    Budget-mid range laptop and smartphone reviews are just as interesting to me as the flagships.
  • Communism - Saturday, December 5, 2015 - link

    Indeed. Spending 600 USD on a phone made up of ~100-120 USD worth of essentially commodity parts is a reflection of the complete lack of consumer awareness or care for anything and everything other than fashion.

    Fashion being a primary concern of consumers is incompatible with capitalism as the only regulatory mechanism in capitalism is the consumer's purchase of the product (Homo economicus).
  • V900 - Saturday, December 5, 2015 - link

    That is literally one of the dumbest things I read in the comments here for a very long time...

    The price of the materials and wool in a high quality, custom fit 400$ suit is also around 20$...

    Because guess what, there are many other factors involved in the retail price of something, than the price of the components involved.

    Even Apple, who have the highest margins in the business only makes about 200$ on a 6-700$ phone, which goes to show how meaningless BoM guesstimates of the price of components are...
  • s.yu - Saturday, December 5, 2015 - link

    One-up that.
  • Daniel Egger - Friday, December 4, 2015 - link

    Interesting read but actually more due the information what you (and potentially whole leading countries on this planet) do not know about Huawei than some new facts.
  • Amandtec - Friday, December 4, 2015 - link

    I was believing everything until you said the VP's name is Bruce Lee. April fools. Ha ha. You got me.
  • davegraham - Friday, December 4, 2015 - link

    did they mention their founder's ties to the PLA at all? I'm curious since that seems to be fudded around a bit and was one of the primary reasons why Huawei has had almost no penetration in the US MSP, Gov't, and other (I2, ES2, etc.) backbone space. Honestly asking, not trying to fluff.
  • name99 - Friday, December 4, 2015 - link

    "Throughout all of this, it becomes clear that there is a white elephant in the room."

    Mixed metaphors. You can have a "white elephant" (a pointless project pursued for the sake of vanity and showing off) or "an elephant in the room" (an obvious point that everyone is aware of, but everyone is also embarrassed to bring up) but it's extremely rare that you want both in the same sentence and certainly not (yet) in this case. (IF Huawei's push into the US is very expensive and very unproductive, and becomes generally known as such, then in five years or so the sentence WOULD work and would be witty --- but not yet.)

    At least you didn't also mix blind men and elephants, or pink elephants, into the sentence!

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