Huawei is about to find out just how important Google is to its global smartphone business.
The Chinese tech company launched its latest smartphone range, the Mate 30, in Munich on Thursday. Slick videos showed off new displays and high-end cameras pitched at challenging the iPhone 11 or Samsung’s latest Galaxy but the devices were missing key Google apps that are usually pre-loaded on Huawei smartphones.
That’s because this is Huawei’s first smartphone series since the company was put on a trade blacklist by the United States back in May, cutting off its new products from access to Google apps and services.
The Mate 30 phones come with Google’s open-source Android operating system, but don’t have access to the Google Play Store and won’t come pre-loaded with apps like YouTube, Gmail and Google Maps. Third-party apps like ride-hailing platforms and food delivery services that rely on Google Maps won’t function without access to Google services.
“This year is quite a challenging year for Huawei,” Richard Yu, Huawei’s consumer business chief, said during the launch event.
Smartphones and other consumer products made up nearly half of Huawei’s revenue last year. But without access to popular apps, those phones become a lot less attractive to international customers. Earlier this year, Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei said the company’s global smartphone sales fell by 40% in the month after the US ban went into effect.
“It will be quite difficult to convince users to buy a premium smartphone without Google services,” said Kiranjeet Kaur, a mobile analyst at IDC. “Even if … other options are available to install apps, it will not be as straightforward as before and there will always be the threat [that] the app support will go away anytime.”
The phones are not cheap: The Mate 30 and Mate 30 Pro 5G will cost €799 ($885) and €1,199 ($1,326), respectively. A special Porsche Design version is €2,095 ($2,320). The company did not specify which markets those prices apply to.
Before the US ban, Europe, in particular, was a market where Huawei had been successfully selling high-end phones, such as the Mate and P series. The company shipped 26.3 million smartphones in Western Europe in 2018, up more than 60% from the previous year, according to market research firm IHS Markit.
While the Mate 30 “will help Huawei compete in China — still the largest smartphone market in the world — the firm will struggle outside of China … due to the lack of the Google Play Store,” said Thomas Husson, an analyst with research firm Forrester. Huawei’s business in Europe is particularly vulnerable, he added.
Huawei’s Mate 30 series comes with a lighter and longer-lasting battery than its predecessor, better cameras and faster hardware under the hood. The new range can support 5G and comes with Huawei’s new Kirin 990 chipset, the company’s homegrown answer to Apple’s A13 Bionic chipset in the iPhone 11 and the latest Qualcomm chips found in Samsung’s new phones.
Yu compared the phone to the iPhone 11 and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10, highlighting the Mate 30’s bigger, edge-to-edge display and the fact that it can support 5G, unlike Apple’s latest device. The new Huawei phones come with four Leica cameras on the back of the phone contained in a circular cutout, one-upping the three cameras housed on the back of the iPhone 11.
Huawei said the Mate 30 series will be available in China starting on September 26, before rolling out elsewhere in Asia in October. The company said the phones would be sold in Europe, but it did not say when they would be available. A spokeswoman said that “sales plans for other markets are not confirmed yet.”
Analysts say even with the superior hardware, it will be hard for Huawei to sell phones without key apps and services.
The Mate 30 “could have competed with the latest iPhone 11 devices,” said Husson, but without Google services “the total product experience won’t be on par for consumers.”