SINGAPORE - Chinese phone maker Huawei on Tuesday (Feb 23) launched a US$40 million (S$52.8 million) regional centre here that lets developers test apps and services for its mobile devices, its first in Asia-Pacific.
The centre, dubbed a DigiX Lab, will provide online and offline consultation for developers, and hands-on support in app development using augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence, software to port apps to Huawei devices, and other technologies.
The launch comes amid a United States ban on Huawei since May 2019 that limits its ability to use American tech giant Google's services and apps, like the Google Play app store, for its products. This prompted the Chinese firm to further develop its own version called Huawei Mobile Services (HMS).
And despite the Covid-19 pandemic, Huawei also expanded its HMS team here by threefold in the last year, which includes operations, marketing and technical staff to support Singapore app developers.
It declined to give a figure on the team’s size but said that it has over 650 employees here, of which more than 70 per cent are local.
The company said the lab in Changi Business Park "leverages Singapore's importance as a growing technological hub in the Asia-Pacific" to boost the mobile ecosystem throughout the region.
Mr Nicholas Ma, chief executive of Huawei International, added that the lab is an example of the company “doubling down on future growth in Singapore”.
Mr Shan Xuefeng, director of Asia-Pacific for Huawei Consumer Cloud Service, said that “in the era of 5G, Huawei aims to build (a connected world) with HMS that empowers developers to innovate as they build their business”.
HMS has been around for years and has its own app store called AppGallery that was launched in China in 2011 and globally in 2018.
The Singapore DigiX Lab is Huawei's second one in the world. The first was launched in Germany and six others are in the pipeline, said the company.
The Singapore lab serves markets with the most registered Huawei developers in Asia-Pacific, such as Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Hong Kong.
Huawei will spend US$40 million on the lab over two to three years, starting from 2020.
The amount is for hiring technical experts including some for the HMS team, the construction and maintenance of the physical DigiX Lab, an online server and developer resources, devices, and regular events held online and offline at the centre, such as for training workshops and networking.
It spans 289 sq m, or slightly larger than three four-room Housing Board flats, and has space for 70 people.
Huawei's experts staffing it will provide technical support and services for developers facing problems when developing apps for HMS.
Training, workshops and networking events will also be held in the lab to grow the local developer community.
There have been concerns that being shut out of Google apps and services would mean much fewer apps for Huawei phones. But the company said it has grown the number of apps for HMS, with more than 120,000 apps as at the end of last year, up from over 50,000 at the beginning of 2020.
The firm said that in Singapore, there was also a 143 per cent growth in the number of newly registered Huawei developers, with over 90 per cent of the top Singapore apps now compatible with HMS.
These include WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Telegram, Line and Dropbox.
Local apps include those for TraceTogether, ComfortDelGro, DBS, UOB, The Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao. The latest addition at the end of last month was the Grab app. The Government's SingPass app will soon be available in the early half of this year.
While they work with Huawei devices, some like WhatsApp can only be downloaded from other sites and not directly from AppGallery yet .
The number of HMS users has also grown. In March last year, there were over 400 million monthly active users. Now, the figure has grown to 580 million users.
Other ways Huawei is supporting developers beyond the DigiX Labs include setting up technical teams in key Asia-Pacific markets from last year to help app developers concerned with costs to port an app for HMS and jitters over its potential market reach.
Besides technical assistance, Huawei's HMS team has also supported app partners by tailoring co-marketing campaigns based on the app's unique selling points and local preferences.