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Huawei fights to stay in the US with laptops and tablets

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Chinese tech company Huawei isn’t exactly flavor of the month in the US right now.

Between the arrest of its chief financial officer, the company’s inability to offer most of its devices stateside and the government’s repeated security warnings about its equipment, the US is not fertile ground for the world’s No. 2 phone maker to continue growing its market share.

But Huawei isn’t taking that as its cue to admit defeat and duck out of the country altogether. On the contrary, the tech giant is still going hard in the US — just not with phones. Instead, it wants you to buy Huawei laptops and tablets.

On Monday at CES in Las Vegas, the biggest tech show of the year, the company unveiled modified versions of an existing laptop, the Matebook 13, and a tablet, the MediaPad M5 Lite. Both are already on sale in China and are coming to Europe later this year. But the variants unveiled at the show are US only, demonstrating that the company still believes it’s worthwhile to invest in manufacturing variants specifically for the US market.

“The US is one of the top, if not the top, PC markets globally, and the success of the MateBook X Pro demonstrates we have the right products to be competitive here,” said Teri Daley, VP of public relations for Huawei, in an interview with CNET. “Despite doubling our forecast for the MateBook X Pro over the previous model, we have not been able to keep up with demand for that product.”

The Matebook 13 builds out Huawei’s portfolio, falling in between the Matebook X Pro and Matebook D. Huawei is confident that the privacy features (fingerprint sensor, recessed camera, local rather than cloud storage) on its laptops, plus the inclusion of Microsoft’s Windows Defender, will prevent the government from calling it out. And while the Trump administration has come down hard on Huawei over its phones, so far it’s left the company’s laptop and tablet business well alone.

“Huawei’s PC and tablet businesses have seen remarkably strong growth in the US,” said CCS Insight analyst Geoff Blaber in an email. “This is enabling it to continue building its brand and presence despite the absence of smartphones.”

Even the announcement by major electronics retailer Best Buy in March that it would no longer sell any Huawei products hasn’t dented the company’s optimism. It’s hoping that by using aluminum alloy and other more expensive materials for laptops and tablets, when rivals are using plastic, it will establish a reputation for quality.

When it comes to reputation, it still has some work to do to grow brand awareness, but the geopolitical drama doesn’t seem to have affected Huawei’s image as much as you might think, said Blaber.

“Given that Huawei is little known among US consumers, we don’t believe recent challenges are having an overly negative impact on the brand,” he said. “The bigger issue is that it means Huawei has had to put its broader ambitions on ice with no clear path to resolution.”

CES 2019: Every story so far: See all of CNET’s coverage of the year’s biggest tech show.

CES 2019 schedule: It’s six days of jam-packed events. Here’s what to expect.

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