Huawei shrugs off Google’s absence on its smartphones

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Huawei's native ecosystem, Huawei Mobile Services (HMS), helped it perform well locally, achieving over 120% quarter-on-quarter growth and enabling the Chinese telecoms giant to maintain its second place position in the local smartphone market.

Despite some industry insiders saying Google’s ban on Huawei may have a negative effect on its smartphone business, the telco says it has seen growth locally, as South African consumers take to its devices pre-installed with its Google alternative.

HMS is the telco’s effort to create an ecosystem of applications, application programming interfaces and cloud services, with the Android-based EMUI used as the device interface.

It began building its own ecosystem following restrictions imposed by the US on Google's trade with the telco in May 2019, after the US Department of Commerce put Huawei on an export blacklist, citing “national security threats” due to its close ties to the Chinese government.

This resulted in the banning of its access to US technologies and software services, such as Google Mobile Services, on its new devices.

Last year, it started releasing several phones locally, pre-installed with HMS, including its flagship smartphone line-up, the Huawei Mate 40 series and the Huawei Y7p.

A statement from the Huawei Consumer Business Group SA says the telecoms giant has seen a great uptake of its new devices powered by its native ecosystem.

“HMS in South Africa has performed very well. Huawei HMS phones achieved a 380% quarter-on-quarter increase in Q3 2020 and 120% quarter-on-quarter increase in Q4 2020 again. Our smartphone market share is still among the top two in South Africa.”

Huawei is hot on the heels of Samsung, which holds the biggest smartphone market share on a global and local scale, with Apple ranking in third place.

Google apps such as Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube and Chrome no longer come pre-installed on HMS Huawei phones. Users have to install them through an alternative method via third-party app stores.

With Google being shut down in China for many years, HMS has been used on Huawei smartphones in China for several years, providing the telco with the right experience and capability to launch in other countries.

In terms of how it managed to navigate some of the blacklisting challenges, Huawei says it continued investment in research and development, investment in the global developer community, as well as key local and international partnerships, which resulted in exponential growth in HMS adoption and capabilities.

Currently more than 120 000 applications have integrated with HMS Core, a collection of tools made for Huawei’s partners and app developers to create new experiences.

“With the launch of HMS Core 5.0 in June 2020, HMS ecosystem now fully opens up core software and hardware capabilities to global developers, with 56 kits, and API numbers jumping to 12 981. By 31 December 2020, Huawei had over 700 million device users. The number of registered developers worldwide has reached 2.3 million,” says the statement.

The Huawei Mate 40 Pro.
The Huawei Mate 40 Pro.

Accelerating 5G connections

In its 2020 annual report, released yesterday, Huawei says while the organisation saw slow overall growth, its global business performance was largely in line with forecasts.

Huawei's sales revenue in 2020 rounded off at Chinese yuan renminbi (CNY) 891.4 billion ($136.7 billion), up 3.8% year-on-year, and its net profit reached CNY64.6 billion, up 3.2% year-on-year.

Despite operational difficulties brought about by US sanctions in 2019 and 2020, the Chinese telco says in 2020, its carrier business continued to ensure the stable operations of more than 1 500 networks across more than 170 countries and regions, which helped support telework, online learning and online shopping throughout COVID-19 lockdowns.

Working together with carriers around the world, the company helped provide 5G connections of more than 3 000 5G innovation projects in over 20 industries, including coal mining, steel production, ports and manufacturing.

Over the past year, Huawei's enterprise business also stepped up efforts to develop innovative scenario-based solutions for different industries, and create a digital ecosystem that provided technical expertise and solutions in the healthcare sector, that were vital in the fight against the virus.

"Over the past year, we've held strong in the face of adversity," says Ken Hu, Huawei's rotating chairman. "We've kept innovating to create value for our customers, to help fight the pandemic, and to support both economic recovery and social progress around the world. We also took this opportunity to further enhance our operations, leading to a performance that was largely in line with forecasts.

"We will continue to work closely with our customers and partners to support social progress, economic growth and sustainable development."

With the rollout of its new operating system HarmonyOS and the HMS ecosystem, Huawei says its consumer business moved forward with its Seamless AI Life strategy to integrate artificial intelligence across all devices and scenarios, focusing on smart office, fitness and health, smart home, easy travel and entertainment.

Huawei first mentioned plans to bring its own OS to market in August 2019, following its blacklisting, which resulted in companies, including Alphabet’s Google and British chip designer ARM, limiting or ceasing their relationships with it.

While HarmonyOS has not been officially rolled out yet, the telco says it has made significant progress in signing partnership deals with mainstream mobile brands that will work with it to provide HarmonyOS-based devices to millions of households globally this year.

However, the company says it is not in a position to confirm when the operating system will launch locally.

“HarmonyOS has not been officially released to consumers as of yet and will be released soon. Globally, HarmonyOS has already attracted more than 20 hardware vendors and 280 application vendors to participate in Huawei's ecosystem.

“In 2021, it is expected that more than 40 mainstream brands will work with Huawei to provide 100 million HarmonyOS-based devices to millions of households,” says the statement from the Huawei Consumer Business Group SA.

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