Huawei readies SA launch of devices with Google alternative

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The Huawei Y7p.
The Huawei Y7p.

Huawei says it is ready to replace Google Mobile Services (GMS) on its South African smartphones, with its native alternative, Huawei Mobile Services (HMS), expected to make its debut in March.

The Chinese multinational telco is preparing to launch its first local smartphone pre-installed with HMS, on the Huawei Y7p smartphone, next month.

Other phones expected to follow suit include the Huawei Mate 40 series and the Huawei P40 series.

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.

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

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

Speaking at a media briefing in Johannesburg on Friday, Akhram Mohamed, CTO forConsumer Business Group at Huawei SA, said Huawei’s new phone range will still run on an open source version of Android, and use Huawei’s AppGallery instead of Google Play Store.

“HMS is not an operating system and it’s also not Harmony; it’s a bunch of core services that run at the base level of the operating system.

“Huawei’s strategy with HMS is quite simple; the Google ban doesn’t mean that our consumers cannot use Gmail or Google search, that’s not true. It’s not just a long-term fix for not having Google, although it might have started off that way. This is not just another Android experience, it has to be better than that, and we are also creating unique experiences and customising services for the local market.”

Google apps such as Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube and Chrome will not come pre-installed on HMS Huawei phones. Users will 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, added Mohamed.

“We have become very mature at this, so capability and experience are the qualities that we have. In 10 months, we have done what it has taken other providers a decade to develop; this is incredible, considering that May 2019 is when the ban started.”

Huawei still positions itself as the number two smartphone manufacturer in the world, having shipped 214 million units in 2019, indicating a 20% year-on-year increase, he continued.

While the company won’t reveal the date of the launch as yet, the Huawei Y7pis set to make its local debut in a few weeks. It is an affordable mid-range offering from Huawei that comes with a 6.39-inch touchscreen display, with a resolution of 720x1 560 pixels anda large 48MP triple camera. It is powered by a 1.7GHz octa-core HiSilicon Kirin 710F processor and comes with 4GB of RAM.

Packed with emerging tech

Huawei says its strategy is premised on four key emerging technologies: 5G, Internet of things, artificial intelligence and cloud, which all come together through localisation and integration.

Its mobile app store, the Huawei AppGallery, has been expanding rapidly around the world, with a monthly user base of around 500 million active users, according to Mohamed.

Last year, the telco announced a partnership with local app developers to promote South African content in Huawei AppGallery. HMS Core consists of certain kits that can be used by developers to create apps, which can then be added to the gallery.

“We currently have 11 000 apps in the app store and we continue to add more. Some people may remember that Apple launched with only 500 apps and today, over a decade later, they have 2.3 million applications.”

South African consumers increasingly want more apps that are relevant to their unique circumstances, addressing issues they experience regularly, and Huawei is committed to catering to the needs of South African consumers, noted Mohamed.

Also speaking at the event, Likun Zhao, VP at Huawei Consumer Business Group, Middle East and Africa, explained: “HMS is our biggest strategy for the future and we hope that after introducing the first series of HMS phones, we can bring all the other advanced phones to SA.

“We will provide a more convenient approach for the consumer and bigger opportunity for local developers and local applications.

“We are working together with our partners, including local retailers, to start the first series of HMS 4 in March, and we have made the full provisions in line with our obligations to provide the after-service, and to look after both the new and early users of our devices and answer all questions, suggestions and complaints relating to HMS, as we continue to improve the user experience.”

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