And so it has now happened—Huawei’s consumer boss Richard Yu has launched the company’s first smartphone post U.S. blacklist restrictions. And now all attention will turn to whether China’s technology giant can pull off the seemingly impossible feat of weaning international Android users away from Google’s full ecosystem. But watching the launch, the detailed run through of hardware specs and featured, you’d be forgiven for forgetting just how much is at stake here with the issue hidden from view.
The Mate 30 launch in Munich, Germany, had all the glitz and glamor such events now demand. The auditorium was packed. The promo videos were exciting and spiced up the room. And the hardware didn’t disappoint. Built around the new high-performance Kirin 990 5G chipset, the Mate 30 phones were pitched as Samsung-beaters and came across as exactly that. Improved photography, battery-life, usability, display, innovative tweaks to the form factor, and nifty AI functionality all on show.
And although Huawei briefly confirmed the Google issue during the day, there was no elaboration on the workarounds Yu had suggested would bypass restrictions and install Google apps on devices after all. Neither was there any more detail on timing of Mate 30 devices hitting the stories and in which regions. This is important given speculation that the device might be delayed into Europe given the Google issue and a reluctance to see too visible a sales hit.
These were the details that those in the audience or watching the livestreams or writing reports wanted to know. But it was almost as though the U.S. blacklist hadn’t put a cloud over the event. Because how can a new smartphone be pitched as a flagship without access to the Google software and services taken for granted by the hundreds of millions of Android users everywhere but China?
“The era of 5G,” Huawei’s consumer boss said in a press release ahead of the launch, “is an opportunity to rethink smartphone technology and the Mate 30 series is the ultimate expression of what’s possible.” Unfortunately, that “rethink” means deploying a drastic change to its user experience that for many will be a step too far.
Priced at between €799 for a basic 128GB Mate 30 and €2095 for the 512GB Porsche variant, with the flagship 256GB Mate 30 Pro coming in at €1199, the prices were broadly familiar territory. Again, though, without significantly more for significantly less, the job of shifting millions away from tried and tested full-fat Android just seems harder. In their respective six-months post launch, Huawei’s Mate 20 shipped 16 million devices, its P30 an even better 17 million. It’s hard to see the Mate 30 continuing the trend—not with delayed or reduced European availability.
And so we got what we expected—the full specs can be found here: impressive hardware that needed access to the usual operating system and apps to tick all the boxes. But rather than face this down in the packed auditorium, the issue was essentially fudged. Packing Huawei’s EMUI10 on top of Android 10, the AOSP—license-free, open source Android—the smartphones were pitched as just another launch. Yes, there will likely be potential after-market install options for Google’s apps, but that can’t be advertised as a boxed feature. And so Yu kept his presentation focused on shiny hardware, download speeds and photography.
Yu had admitted the issue to the press earlier, confirming “we cannot use the Google Mobile Services core, we can use the Huawei Mobile Services (HMS) core. Because of the U.S. ban, these phones cannot preinstall the GMS core, it has forced us to use the HMS Core running the Huawei app gallery on the Mate 30 series phones.”
I have written before that Huawei has accepted that it will take a short-term hit in sales as it works its way through its new post-blacklist reality. And this was the rubber hitting that particular road. The new devices will sell, Chinese consumers for a start will buy them in droves. But Europe is the real battleground. Europe is the location selected for the launch. And Europe is the hardest market for New Huawei to crack.
And so, at the time of writing, we have essentially learned nothing new. Specs had leaked. Google had confirmed the lack of services and apps, Huawei that HarmonyOS was more for IoT than smartphones. We knew what we were getting. All of which was notably absent from the presentation. The Mate 30 is a great device, it packs in new and innovative features that should be taking the fight right to Samsung right now, but its hidden downside means that it won’t. And that’s now on everyone’s minds.