HUAWEI Technologies Co. was on track to become Google’s most prolific Android partner until it was blacklisted by the US government last summer and saw its relationship with the Alphabet, Inc. unit terminated. Now, the Chinese tech giant is trying an alternative strategy to make up for the absence of Google apps and services in its global devices.
The Huawei Mate 40 Pro, tested by Bloomberg News, offers an early indication of what Android smartphones without Google can be. The Shenzhen-based company’s technical chops are impressive, but it’s hard to imagine anyone outside its home country, beyond hardcore enthusiasts, spending well more than $1,000 for a phone without Google Maps or Gmail.
Huawei’s success has been built on its dominance in China, where Google services have long been unavailable. The company has more than 490 million monthly active users for its App Gallery globally, including a music service supported by deals with the major labels. It also has its own alternatives to offerings like the Chrome browser and Google Assistant.
“It helps that Huawei already has a lot of the right pieces in place for the China market, but many things do not necessarily translate from that market to others,” said Anshel Sag, senior analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.
The App Gallery, for example, lacks Google basics like Maps and YouTube, along with Facebook, Inc. essentials such as WhatsApp and Instagram. For most consumers, that makes the Mate 40 Pro, which retails for €1,199 ($1,445) in Europe, a non-starter. Its availability in the US is limited.
“It’s fine if you are a bit of a geek and prepared to persevere, but it’s just nowhere near slick enough for mass adoption,” said Ben Wood, chief of research at CCS Insight.
To address the absences, Huawei has developed a system for finding installation packages online and also has a cloning utility that will take an existing Android device and copy its apps and data. Still, that’s a lot of work for the premium price.
A RAREFIED CLUB
Discounting outside China could undercut the Mate 40 Pro’s positioning at home, where it’s a full-featured contender. The 6.7-inch handset has a huge display and battery, wireless charging, advanced multi-camera photography and a bespoke 5nm processor — the only such offering outside of Apple, Inc.’s iPhones so far. It’s the sort of tech leadership that Huawei’s ascent has been built on, outpacing Samsung Electronics Co. in the spec race.
Still, that leadership is in jeopardy. The latest US sanctions mean Huawei likely won’t have access to key chip suppliers, leaving questions about its ability to power future devices. The company just sold its lower-end Honor brand so that business could try to restore access to US technology.
For now, the company’s making the best of its situation by working to attract app developers with lower fees and better exposure on its App Gallery. Huawei takes a 15% cut of app earnings versus Google’s typical 30%. The company now has more than 2 million registered app developers, up 87% from last year. It has more than doubled the number of apps integrated with its Huawei Mobile Services (HMS Core) framework over the past year to in excess of 100,000.
Huawei is “doing some great work helping non-Chinese app developers break into the lucrative Chinese market,” said CCS Insight’s Wood.
Huawei is also making promotional moves by offering exclusive perks for players of popular titles like AFK Arena by Lilith Games. It says it already has several games — such as Lords Mobile by IGG — earning in excess of €1 million per month in Europe through its platform.
To plot a path for its consumer electronics business, Huawei is relying on its massive scale, engineering strength and the general hunger for a third player in the mobile ecosystem. Its effort to compete with Apple and Google shows more promise than prior ventures from the likes of Samsung and Microsoft Corp.
But in order for Huawei to expand its nascent ecosystem to the point where it can make high-powered devices like the Mate 40 Pro compelling internationally, its first challenge will be to ensure it can keep producing such high-spec handsets. — Bloomberg