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Huawei overtook Apple to become the world’s second-largest smartphone brand in 2018. A remarkable feat for a company which was relatively unknown until a few years ago. Huawei’s success has even been achieved without significant sales in the US, the world’s second-largest smartphone market.
Buoyed by its fast ascension, Huawei had ambitious plans for 2019, as the Chinese company was gunning to overtake Samsung on the global stage by 2020. However, the company’s plans to knock Samsung off its perch have been ruined by the escalating trade war between China and the U.S. also accused Huawei of engaging in espionage on behalf of the Chinese government. Companies based in the U.S. or using U.S. origin technology are banned from doing business with Huawei and its subsidiaries.
The ban has had huge implications for Huawei as the company uses Android as an operating system and Huawei’s Kirin processors are based on Arm’s design. Huawei’s worst nightmare has come true as its upcoming Mate 30 series phones will not have access to Google’s apps and services like Google Map, Play Store and popular apps like Facebook and WhatsApp.
Huawei officially unveiled its new operating system, Harmony OS, a cross-device platform, at the Huawei Developer Conference on August 9. Developing an OS is a mammoth task and only companies with deep pockets have the financial muscle to even attempt this. After the hard work of creating the system, a greater challenge awaits the fledgling OS. Getting developers to adopt apps and creating a whole ecosystem is what will make or break an OS. Blackberry, Nokia, Microsoft and Samsung have all tried and failed miserably with their attempts to compete with or break free from Android and iOS.
Huawei is facing a conundrum with the Mate 30 series: Android without Google’s apps and services or Harmony OS without a comprehensive apps store. Either way, the new range will not have access to Facebook, WhatsApp and other popular apps due to the U.S. ban.
Based on Euromonitor International’s research data, sales of Huawei smartphones are forecast to decline in almost all major markets in 2019, except China and Russia. Google’s global dominance extends to almost every corner of the Earth. Russia has Yandex, however, and China has its own Baidu search engine and WeChat, the SuperApp.
Huawei could still launch the Mate 30 series in China, Russia and limited markets in the coming months, running on a watered-down Android OS. Users could still access Facebook and Google services via the browser and possibly sideload WhatsApp and other banned apps on their own, depending on how vigilant Android is in enforcing the U.S. government’s ban.
The push to continue the launch of Mate 30 in selected markets that are not adversely affected by the lack of apps and services will signal Huawei’s defiance of the U.S. ban. It will also buy some time for Huawei to continue to pursue and entice developers to write apps for Harmony OS or pray hard for the
U.S.-China trade war to ease off. This coming year, 2020, will be a watershed period for Huawei, showing whether the company (along with other Chinese companies) can break free from the shackles of U.S. technologies.