Huawei’s next 5G-capable Mate 30 line of smartphones will not come with Google’s popular apps including Gmail, Maps, and YouTube. Google confirmed that due to a US government ban on sales to Huawei earlier this year, it could not license its apps to the Chinese smartphone giant. It also means the next Huawei smartphone will not have access to the Google Play app store, which could leave customers without access to other popular and useful apps.
Analysts suggest Huawei will struggle to sell a gadget without Google’s apps nowadays. The US government restricted American companies from selling any products and services to Huawei in May 2019, citing national security concerns, which Huawei rejects. The Android operating system is open-source software, so any manufacturer including Huawei can offer it on their smartphone or tablet.
As a US-based company, Google is required to comply with the government’s decision to blacklist Huawei earlier this year. Soon after Huawei was placed on the entity list, a number of American chipmakers confirmed that they would stop supplying Huawei with their products, including Intel, Qualcomm, Xilinx, and Broadcom. The ban also extends to software products and services, such as Google’s Android and another popular apps, the operating system used by Huawei’s smartphones.
An open-source version of Android is available, but the blacklist will bar Huawei from access to licensed versions that include technical support and pre-installation of Google’s apps, such as Google Play app store, Google Maps, Youtube, and Gmail. Google declined to comment. Huawei said Google’s ecosystem — including the Android operating system that powers most of the world’s smartphones — remains its “first choice.”
But analysts say launching without Google’s apps in Europe will be a major blow. Consumers expect to have access to all the major apps they are used to – including the useful Maps and YouTube. Without them, Huawei’s phones will seem a lot less appealing compared with the competitors. And losing the Play Store means Huawei will need to provide another way for customers to access other popular apps such as Facebook, Twitter and so on.
It is possible to create Android-powered gadgets without involving Google at all. Amazon does this with its Fire tablets, which do not come with Google’s apps. But will customers want a premium, high-end mobile phone that does not have access to some of the world’s most-used apps? Huawei has said it will continue using Android for as long as the US government allows it. But it is also working on its own operating system – Harmony OS – as a back-up plan.
Google apps and services — including, crucially, the Google Play Store — are considered a key part of Android as an operating system, so much so that the European Union fined Google a record $5 billion last year for using Play Store access as leverage to force Android phone manufacturers to default to Google search on their hardware. The only real success story for Android without Google services is Amazon’s inexpensive Fire tablets, and those aren’t exactly in the same ballpark as the Mate 30, which is a flagship device meant to compete with devices like the Galaxy Note 10 Plus, Pixel 4, and OnePlus 7 Pro.
Chinese phone companies have had to work without the Play Store for years (since Google doesn’t offer services within the country), but it’s a much more chaotic marketplace, with hundreds of app stores all competing and different apps available depending on the store.
Huawei has been working on its own Play Store alternative since 2018 as a contingency for this exact sort of situation, but the US’s ban means that it’ll still have an uphill battle ahead, since companies like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, or any other US-based company won’t be able to offer apps for that store, even if they wanted to. Huawei announced its new operating system, HarmonyOS, earlier this month. But last week, it said it has no plans to put that operating system on a phone this year. Besides, it’s unlikely that the Chinese tech giant will switch to an unproven operating system so late in the product cycle.
The company is reportedly set to reveal the Mate 30 Pro next month in Europe. However, there’s no clarity at the moment as to where it’ll sell this model (besides China) without the official Google certification. Even if the phone is packed with features, it’ll be a hard sell for Huawei. The company says HarmonyOS, a microkernel-based distributed operating system, can be used in all sorts of devices – from smart watches to smart phones and in-vehicle systems, among other things. Yu said HarmonyOS was “future-oriented” and designed to be “smoother and more secure,” which he said was “completely different” from Android and Apple operating systems. Huawei said HarmonyOS was an open-source platform, which would permit developers to modify it for their hardware and encourage adoption of the new platform.
The extent to which HarmonyOS would be able to act as a substitute for Android is still unclear. Developing an operating system and the entire ecosystem that accompanies it is a complex affair. Apart from Google’s Android, the only other popular operating system is Apple’s iOS, available exclusively on the iPhone. Huawei says it expects developers to recompile their apps for the new operating system.
Experts say Huawei may find it challenging to convince customers to buy Huawei’s HarmonyOS phones, if they come without access to the full version of Android or the popular services of Google and applications available on the Google Play Store. Earlier this year, Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei said global smartphone sales dropped by 40% in the month after the US ban went into effect.