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Who, outside of China, would buy a Huawei smartphone now?

Huawei recently launched its latest flagship smartphone, which is excellent in every respect bar the absence of Google apps. That alone will be a deal breaker for most.

While the Mate 30’s spec sheet may only represent an evolution rather than a revolution, the same has been true of all other smartphone launches for some time. On the hardware side Huawei’s smartphones are as sophisticated as anything Samsung or Apple have to offer, but on the software side it is heavily dependent on Google’s Android.

On top of the many disadvantages that come with not owning your own software platform, Android presents the additional complication of being owned by an American company. Since US President Donald Trump decided to use Huawei as a proxy in his geopolitical arm-wrestle with His Chinese opposite number, that means Google is obliged to cease doing business with Huawei.

Android itself is open source, which means smartphone vendors are free to use it without having to deal directly with Google. Use of the Play Store and all other Google apps, however, does require a licensing agreement with Google, which is no longer possible for Huawei. So the big question for potential Huawei smartphone customers is: how important are those apps?

The simple answer is: very. Huawei is chucking billions of dollars at its own developer ecosystem in a bid to replicate the Android one and it may well achieve considerable success in doing so. But a Huawei version of an app will still be different from the one Android users are used to and it will never be able to replicate Gmail, Google Maps, etc.

This is of far less significance to Chinese punters, who have their access to Google products restricted by their government, lest they get funny ideas about freedom of speech, civil liberties and so on. So Huawei smartphone sales in China are unlikely to be dramatically affected by the absence of full-fat Android. Similarly in the US, where Huawei is effectively barred from selling its devices, it doesn’t make much difference one way or the other.

In the rest of the world, however, prospective smartphone buyers are faced with the choice of a Huawei phone with a compromised user experience, or any number of competitors with similar specs and the Android environment they know and love. There is absolutely no incentive for anyone to accept any user experience compromise, and thus no reason to pick Huawei over a rival.

History provides further evidence of the critical importance of the mobile platform to smartphone sales. A decade ago Symbian and Blackberry went from market-leading to irrelevant in a matter of months once their user experience was superseded by iOS and Android. Microsoft tried to break the nascent duopoly but faced the Catch 22 situation of trying to get developer support for a platform with a small user base, which in turn was impossible to grow with an inadequate app ecosystem.

We also have the precedent set by Amazon, which used an unlicensed fork of Android on its Fire smartphone five years ago. It too had impressive specs but nobody was prepared to accept the user experience compromise and it was left with a warehouse full of very expensive paperweights. Android is the Windows of mobile and nobody wants a vanilla Linux phone.

If we assume the Chinese market remains viable for Huawei, that’s a pretty major consolation prize, however. It accounts for sales of around 100 million units per quarter and Huawei has around a third of the market. But that implies 20-30 million of its total quarterly smartphone sales come from outside of China, nearly all of which could be lost until Trump and Xi patch things up. Far from catching Samsung at the top of the global smartphone vendor list, Huawei will do well to stay in the top five now.


10 comments

  1. Avatar Alias 20/09/2019 @ 1:46 pm

    … no thanks!!!

  2. Avatar Eric 20/09/2019 @ 2:36 pm

    Got to love all the propaganda pushed by media. Take 5 min to install the service if you want them. In fact anyone with a brain would get the mate 20 pro over he crappy alternative.

    • Avatar Rehan 21/09/2019 @ 9:43 pm

      Absolutely agree. I shifted from giants to Huawei about 3 years ago to mate 9. And it’s absolutely brilliant.

      • Avatar Peter 23/09/2019 @ 10:49 am

        Guys, the issue is you can’t even sideload the Google Apps. Google are forced to block that as well. So you are indeed left with a very compromised experience.

        Funnily enough, you might just go and buy a Xiaomi Device without any of those restrictions applying to Huawei.

  3. Avatar Nga Seg Son 21/09/2019 @ 3:23 pm

    A Huawei phone without the Google Apps pre-installed is like a current iPhone without Google Apps pre-installed too ; ain’t it ?

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 23/09/2019 @ 8:40 am

      No

  4. Avatar Thomas Frey 21/09/2019 @ 7:14 pm

    The camera is just amazing compared to all other smartphones, well worth some side loading

  5. Avatar Myemye 22/09/2019 @ 10:02 am

    Then, we need a real change which Huawei technology is different from others
    From signal provider 5G to the latest new tech. Mobiles. Thanks to HUAWEI.
    Rethink posibilities

  6. Avatar Robert 28/08/2020 @ 9:36 pm

    The U.S black marking China and it’s tech products is a bad joke.
    Will Apple and Samsung STILL be expecting to get their stuff made dirt cheap in China then sold in the U.S to maintain these companies massive profit margins?
    Samsung (before anyone pedanticaly complains) us South Korean and will still be affected if the U.S says so.

  7. Avatar Ruud 22/01/2021 @ 6:37 pm

    The best way to stop Google Inc. annex U.S. intelligence NSA (they still cooperate together) with 23 other large companies/concerns (p.e. Microsoft, Intel, Cisco e.s.o) with backdoors in software, programs or less encryption in routers and desktop/servers.
    Read https://ssd.eff.org/ for info and solutions. (I’m an EFF gold-member since 2013) . This message is no Spam!

    Back to this item. I bought the Huawei Nova 7 Pro 5G without Google Services Mobile and got back Huawei Services Mobile in EMUI-10 (now 11). The best way to get Google out of my privacy is to take another OS. In real live it took me 6 years to get my whole Google account to stop. I’m from the EU and we have better privacy laws where your OS on PC or phone don’t have to show your location. Name, IP-address, e-mail-address, living address are privacy data no software-program or app may have it, in the EU. Because of security ways I don’t use Social Media and Google. It’s better to use a Chinese companie who are using the Privacy-laws in the EU, than cooperate with unlawfull programs where the developers cooperate with US-government intelligence. Don’t trust the propaganda of stories about China, if your own government will break our encryptions of the internet. I’m a member too of the Free Software Foundation Europe (in Berlin), so I know where about I ‘m talking. Sorry my English language isn’t so well, but I did my best for it.

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