Huawei's flagship Mate 30 phones boast impressive new features, but will not come with Google apps

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Huawei's new flagship Mate 30 phone features a Leica quad-camera system that shoots ultra slow-motion, and the industry's first and only integrated chipset with a built-in 5G modem.
Huawei consumer business group chief executive Richard Yu presenting the Mate 30 smartphone range in Munich on Sept 19, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

MUNICH - The new Mate 30 smartphone series boasts a wealth of new features but it is Huawei's first flagship phone that will not have access to Google apps and services due to the United States ban on American companies doing business with the Chinese tech giant.

This means buyers of the new phone will not be able to have popular apps such as Gmail, YouTube and Google Maps pre-installed nor will they get access to the many apps in the Google Play Store.

The phones - the Mate 30 and more advanced Mate 30 Pro - will still run on Android OS (operating system), which at its core is open source. This is similar to Amazon's Fire tablets, which also run on an open source version of Android that does not come with Google apps and services.

The new phones were launched in Munich on Thursday (Sept 19) afternoon at the Rethink Possibilities event.

Huawei consumer business group chief executive Richard Yu presented the devices along with other new products, including the Huawei Watch GT 2, but did not address the Google issue.

The Mate 30's lack of Google apps and services were confirmed by business news organisation Quartz in a report published on Wednesday night.

Huawei was placed on the US Department of Commerce's "entity list" in May due to national security concerns, which means that US companies must seek prior approval before they can have any business dealings with the Chinese firm.

A partial reprieve is in place until Nov 19, but that applies only to existing Huawei devices such as the P30 and not for new products like the Mate 30.

At the Munich event, Mr Yu chose instead to focus on promoting the phone's hardware features, including its high-end cameras and software that promises best-in-class 5G experiences and high power efficiency.

But tech analysts say the phone's lack of Google apps, which Android consumers are used to working with, will likely have a major adverse impact for the Chinese company - at least in markets outside of China.

Domestic Chinese buyers have been blocked from accessing many of Google's facilities for years.

Mr Parv Sharma, research analyst for devices and ecosystems at Counterpoint Research, told The Straits Times that Android users outside of China are already "locked in" to the Google Mobile Services ecosystem: "There are not many alternatives which can provide these services reliably and with high quality."

It may not be doom and gloom, however, if Huawei manages to work around the ban.

On Thursday, the company said it is setting aside US$1 billion (S$1.38 billion) to fund the development of Huawei Mobile Services, an alternative to the Google Play Store and Google services.

Mr Yu reportedly said earlier this month that it had been looking into the ability to let Mate 30 users install Google apps on their own. The process would be "quite easy", he said.

But tech analysts remain sceptical. Manually installing apps from sources alternative to official licensed ones may be easy enough for Android geeks, but less so for the average user.

Ms Kiranjeet Kaur, an analyst with research firm IDC, told The Straits Times: "If a consumer, who is buying a premium device, has to go through all these extra steps and still not feel certain that all these apps will continue to work smoothly, then it is going to be a big deterrent."

There are also the risk that malware could make its way into phones, as alternative sources may not have been monitored and tested for security issues.

Mr Thomas Husson, vice-president and principal analyst at market research company Forrester, said it will "take time" for Huawei to offer a compelling alternative to Google's version of Android - not just in developing its own operating system, but also to "foster a competitive ecosystem of brand and developer partners".

Huawei is working on perfecting its own operating system, Harmony OS, which may be used for its P40 phone next year.

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