Huawei debuts first smartphone lacking Google Play

Nikkei

Uncertainty looms for Chinese company's overseas sales as it unveils iPhone rival.

Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei's consumer business group, launches the Mate 30 smartphone series at the Convention Center in Munich, Germany, on Sept. 19.   © Reuters

Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei's consumer business group, launches the Mate 30 smartphone series at the Convention Center in Munich, Germany, on Sept. 19. © Reuters

Huawei Technologies launched a flagship smartphone without Google's mobile services support for the first time on Thursday, after the partnership of more than 10 years was disrupted by Washington's blacklisting of the Chinese company.

Though the latest Mate 30 series -- Huawei's answer to Apple's new iPhones -- still may use the open-source Google Android operating system, it will lack popular services such as the Google Play app store, Google Maps, Gmail and YouTube.

For the first time, Huawei declined to specify the availability of its new premium handset overseas. The rare move from the world's second-largest smartphone maker sparks uncertainties over the sales outlook beyond the home market. But JD.com, China's second-largest e-commerce platform, begins domestic preorders for the series Friday with shipping to start Sept. 26.

"As you know, because of the U.S. ban, these phones cannot be pre-installed with [the Google Mobile Services] core," Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei Consumer Electronics Group, said at the launch event in the German city of Munich. "It forced us to use the [Huawei Mobile Services] core."

The company intends to pour $1 billion into developers in order to boost its open-source Huawei Mobile Services ecosystem. Yu said the tech giant also will tap the Huawei AppGallery -- its own version of the Google Play store -- which has been used widely only in China where Google is unavailable. The AppGallery has around 1 million developers.

The Mate 30 series still becomes the world's first smartphone featuring an integrated fifth-generation wireless chipset with built-in 5G modems, the Nikkei Asian Review first reported in July.

The 5G system-on-a-chip is designed by Huawei chip design arm HiSilicon Technologies. The offering would beat the plan from the world's top mobile chip developer, Qualcomm, to fully commercialize its integrated fifth-generation wireless platform in the first half of 2020.

Apple has yet to launch a 5G handset, while the mobile processor and modem are separate in the 5G phone from Samsung Electronics.

Huawei's latest flagship models are no cheaper than Apple's iPhone 11 series. The Mate 30 starts at 799 euros ($884), compared with $699 for the iPhone 11. The Mate 30 Pro reaches 1,099 euros, higher than the most premium iPhone Pro Max. The Mate 30 5G version tops 1,199 euros.

Yu stressed privacy and security as the company's top priorities, saying the Mate 30 series features Huawei's latest biometric authentication to protect user data.

The executive's comments came just one day after the Forum of Incident Response and Security Teams, a leading global organization on cybersecurity, suspended Huawei's membership in the group in response to U.S. export controls on the Chinese company.

The forum said it is working with Huawei and the U.S. Bureau of Industry and Security to address concerns related to the company's participation in the group.

Huawei also said its new phones offer more powerful cameras and contain smart gesture sensors that let users scroll and rotate screens without touching the phone. Side volume buttons are replaced with an invisible on-screen side-touch interaction feature.

"The company is mainly eyeing Chinese customers as the Chinese market accounted for some 70% to 80% of Huawei's premium phone sales," Jeff Pu, a Hong Kong-based analyst at GF Securities, told Nikkei. "It really gets support at home."

Huawei has prepared a roughly 15% higher level of initial production for the Mate 30 than for last year's Mate 20, the analyst said.

Chiu Shih-fang, a smartphone and supply chain analyst at the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research, said Yu did not clear all concerns in his presentation. Huawei initially may make the Mate 30 available only in certain markets, Chiu told Nikkei.

The Chinese tech giant's global smartphone shipments grew 8.3% in the April-June quarter, according to IDC, with the increase coming mainly from the home market.

Huawei's handset shipments in China advanced as much as 27% on the year, but shipments to Europe -- the company's key overseas market -- plunged 16% over that time, data from research company Canalys shows. The dichotomy suggests consumer confidence in Huawei products was hurt by the uncertainty over offering Google's services, analysts said.

Huawei could ship 230 million smartphones for 2019, GF Securities estimates, a 12% gain. But Washington's crackdown has reduced that figure from GF's previous forecast of 260 million, Pu said.

"If Huawei continues to lose access to Google's mobile services, then starting from next year we will see the impact on its overseas market more apparent than this year," the veteran tech analyst said.

Unless users know how to download Google Mobile Services themselves, they will require third-party technical support to install those popular Google apps, an inconvenience to consumers, Pu said.

Nikkei

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