LeEco's Phone Future May Lie With DirecTV


LAS VEGAS—Chinese conglomerate LeEco has a lot of products at CES: the LeSee electric car, a 120-inch TV, two smart bikes, and a prototype drone. But its biggest challenge in the US may be in phones, where it has released two unlocked phones, the Le Pro 3 and Le S3, to a slightly perplexed reaction among reviewers.

"One of the things I'd like to emphasize is that it's not a race," LeEco global product marketing head Kenny Mathers said. "It's obviously something that needs to build over time."

And so, LeEco is listening, learning, and building relationships. The company is known as the "Netflix of China," and video content is front and center on its phones. But in the US so far, that content hasn't been very compelling. That may change with the company's new DirecTV partnership, announced at the end of November.

"We're absolutely going to double down on that relationship with AT&T," Mathers said. He demurred when asked if AT&T (DirecTV's owner) would sell the phones directly, though, saying instead that LeEco is expanding distribution and talking to multiple carriers.

"You're going to see deeper integration and eventually a deeper relationship on the retail side as well," LeEco communications GM Teri Daley hinted. More details will come later this year, she said.

The idea of a "DirecTV phone," which integrates DirecTV Now tightly and may be given away or sold at a deep discount with service, is floating out there. Mathers and Daley didn't bite, but neither did they shoot down the idea.

The company is also streamlining its software for a cleaner experience. "In the next generation of devices, you're going to see the right experience. There's four different ways to see content on the phone, and we need one, maybe two at the most," Daley said.

"We will be pushing software updates that will clean up our experience," Mathers added.

Coolpad, which LeEco recently acquired a controlling interest in, could become the company's "fighter brand," targeting low-end smartphones at Cricket, MetroPCS, and other prepaid markets, Mathers said. For what it's worth, Mathers and Daley said that LeEco does not own Coolpad, but I have a stack of Coolpad press materials that say it's "Coolpad, a LeEco company" and explain how it's integrating with LeEco. Coolpad products are also being shown in LeEco's booth.

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