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'Apple's branding is stronger but our product is better,' says Huawei exec

Huawei's Richard Yu explains why the new TalkBand B2 watch and P8 smartphone will help the Chinese company build trust.

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Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei's consumer business group, wants to build trust in the Chinese brand. Stephen Shankland/CNET

Apple Watch, schmapple watch. Launching the TalkBand B2 , Huawei reckons that if you "ask people which one they prefer, it's ours."

At the UK launch of the TalkBand B2 smartwatch and P8 smartphone, CNET caught up with Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei's consumer business group, to find out why the Chinese company needs to build trust, and why its wearables are better than Apple's.

One of Yu's goals has been to get in on the ground floor of the wearable technology boom. "In smartphones we were three years behind the other vendors and we were joining the industry too late, more than three years late, but smartwatches are just beginning. I told our guys if we start from the beginning we will be the leader for smartwatches. I gave the team a target -- no excuse."

The company has traditionally been known for making cheap devices rather than stylish ones, so three or four years ago Yu made some changes in strategy. "Technology we are good at, but design, in the past, we were not so good at," he said. "Now we have R&D centres in London and Paris, where we have the best talent in design and fashion."

He believes that's paid off in making the Huawei TalkBand B2 a desirable item, taking its cues from the premium styling of a fancy watch rather than the functional feel of a gadget. Yu reckons the TalkBand "is more premium, even compared with Apple's Watch. Ask people which one they prefer, it's ours -- our brand, our product, our design. [Apple's] branding maybe is stronger but our product is better."

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The TalkBand B2 arrives alongside Huawei's new flagship phone, the P8, powered by Android. The company abandoned earlier efforts to sell devices powered by Windows Phone; spotting my Nokia Lumia phone, Yu remarked that "people preferred Android phone so finally we gave up...it's difficult to persuade consumers to buy a Windows Phone."

Huawei's attempts to crack the phone market mark a change in strategy over the past few years. "In the past we have had some entry-level OEM business with carriers, but that's not good business for Huawei," Yu said. "We want to have a standing in the premium market, from the middle to high-tier under our own brand."

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With 70 per cent of Huawei's revenue coming from outside China, the company is certainly doing something right in building its brand. Yu acknowledges that building brand awareness can be a slow process but highlights increased market share in parts of Europe.

In other parts of the world, however, there are bigger problems than persuading punters to part with their cash instead of buying an iPhone or Samsung. In the US, Huawei has faced controversy over security concerns raised by the company's alleged connection to the Chinese government. Yu reckons that has "no influence" on the consumer part of the business, as the P8 and its ilk run Android software from Google, a US company. On the business side of things, however, he conceded, "We need time to build trust."

Yu is upbeat about the potential for the brand to grow. "In the beginning nobody trusted us, even in China. It was a big headache for us. We'd design a product and nobody trusts us.

"Many people don't know Huawei. 'What's Huawei?' But they will trust us because we are a global company," he said. "As time flies, more and more customers will recognise the value. Rome was not built in a day and trust is not built in a day. But step-by-step we can make a change.

"We've provided telecoms technology worldwide for 27 years," he insists. "At Huawei we are a really trustable company."

Huawei recently launched Honor, a subsidiary mobile phone brand. Yu denies that Honor is intended to get around the negative connotations of the parent brand and convince people to buy a Huawei phone without realising it. Instead, "the goal of Honor is to take a large share in e-commerce. More and more young people are buying online, and costs are lower... Honor is mass-market. It's like Toyota and Lexus: Toyota is for mass-market, and Lexus is for the premium high-end."

Looking to the future of Huawei, Yu promises "visionary" innovation. "In the past for the smartphone you could see Apple leading innovation," he said, "but in future you will see innovation led not by them but by Huawei."