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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  • krumme - Friday, December 4, 2015 - link

    Great article for us that develops business :) - thanx
  • zeeBomb - Friday, December 4, 2015 - link

    Wow... A beautifully written journal of your past experiences Ian! First time I've actually get to see the Anandtech bunch in a photo too. Great story man!
  • Ryan Smith - Saturday, December 5, 2015 - link

    In the interest of transparency, I have removed 3 comments from this discussion thread. I don't believe attacking my editors or other editors based on their looks is appropriate, even with our liberal comment policy.
  • Amazing2u - Sunday, December 6, 2015 - link

    Ryan, Seriously?! WOW... some people really have no class! WTH gives anyone the right to comment on the looks of someone else? how shallow can you be. geez.
  • JKflipflop98 - Tuesday, December 15, 2015 - link

    Only every person you've ever met or ever will meet. The first thing they (and you) do when meeting people is judge them by their looks. It's automatic.
  • AndrewJacksonZA - Tuesday, December 8, 2015 - link

    That caused me to raise an eyebrow.

    Thanks for curating Ryan.
  • AndrewJacksonZA - Tuesday, December 8, 2015 - link

    Err, moderating.
  • Scipio Africanus - Wednesday, December 9, 2015 - link

    Wow really? Who'd do that? You guys need more group photos. Its cool to see after reading this site for so long. The guys from Ars have always had a smattering of group photos through the years.
  • jjj - Friday, December 4, 2015 - link

    In 2014 Huawei's R&D spending was 40.8B CNY so some 6.5 billion $ at the time and about the same as Apple.Ofc for Huawei it was some 14.5% of revenue while Apple is at a bit above 3%.

    In the end Huawei is not really Chinese, they behave just as bad as Western companies, eager to ripoff their customers and sell them overpriced garbage if they get the chance. This year pretty much all their devices are that.
    In design at least they might get it that hey need to shrink the upper and lower bezels or that home buttons are insane but they haven't shown more than that so far.No innovation that matters, not even the minimal inspiration to use a fast SoC in almost everything. The 950 should be used across the board, all in all it would be a huge upside for them. But they won't do that because they are just as blind as Samsung and all the others and given their pricing 2016 is likely to be a poor year for them.
    So, for now, Huawei is yet to show us that the world would be poorer without them. Nobody needs another Apple or another Samsung or LG. We have way too many of those already.
  • jjj - Friday, December 4, 2015 - link

    Source for the R&D numbers (get the PDF, check page 37)

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