Huawei is launching its cutting-edge new smartphone in Berlin on Thursday. The only problem: the company won’t be selling the phone in Germany, or anywhere else in Europe, thanks to the security ban slapped on the Chinese company by the Trump administration.
The Mate 30 will feature a cutting-edge curved display, a powerful processor, and more cameras than Apple’s brand new iPhone 11, but it will lack one critical feature: Google’s Android software.
The security ban bars U.S. companies from selling technology to Huawei, and without access to a full version of Android, Huawei won’t be able to offer customers access to apps like Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube and, critically, Google’s app store. Worse, apps that rely on Google Maps, such as ride-hailing and food delivery services, will also be unavailable.
Huawei has said it will provide a ”‘workaround” to make up for the absence of the Google Play Store, so that users can download popular apps such as Facebook, Instagram, and Netflix.
But Huawei knows that in Europe, an expensive smartphone without Google services is “practically useless,” and won’t even try and launch the Mate 30 in western European countries, according to several sources inside Huawei speaking to Dutch website LetsGoDigital.org.
And this could cause major problems for Huawei’s profitability and aims to become the world’s biggest smartphone maker, given that European countries like the U.K., France, Germany, and Spain, are crucially important markets for a company that has no presence in the U.S. market.
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Huawei is the world’s second-biggest smartphone manufacturer. In 2018 it saw sales jump 30 percent while sales stagnated for all its main competitors. Prior to the U.S. ban, Huawei said it was on course to overtake Samsung as the world’s number one smartphone maker by 2020.
But in May, the Trump administration added Huawei to a blacklist banning U.S. companies from selling it technology without first obtaining a U.S. government license. The Mate 30 series is the company’s first smartphone to launch since the ban took effect.
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U.S. lawmakers have long seen Huawei as a security concern, given its close links to the Chinese government and fears that it may be using its telecoms equipment to spy on foreign communications — something Huawei has always denied.
The Trump administration has aggressively tried to get other countries to block the company’s telecommunications equipment from next-generation 5G mobile networks.
While the U.S. Commerce Department has granted Huawei a handful of reprieves for software updates, those only applied to previously-released phones.
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In Huawei’s home market the ban is not a problem: consumers have been operating without access to key Google apps for years, because the company’s services are blocked by the Chinese government.
The company has begun to build its own smartphone software, called HarmonyOS, but its engineers admit it is no match for Android, and won’t be for many years.
While the Mate 30 will have cutting-edge hardware to beat Apple’s latest designs, without Android on board the company will struggle to convince customers to buy their phones.
“Huawei has Apple soundly beaten when it comes to form-factor design but even these beautiful looking devices are going to struggle to see any volume without the Google ecosystem,” Richard Windsor, a mobile analyst, said in a note this week.
Cover: This unlocated photo shows a store of Huawei in China, 11 September 2019. China's telecom equipment giant Huawei Technologies plans to raise 6 billion yuan ($844 million) by issuing two tranches of bonds in its first domestic bond sales, a move the company said is to maintain its financial stability. (Imaginechina via AP Images)