12:38 GMT15 May 2021
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    MOSCOW (Sputnik), Tommy Yang - Attracted by Huawei’s flagship P30 series smartphones being displayed at the entrance of an electronics store in downtown Moscow, Samuel Rodrigues, a sales manager from Brazil, picked up a P30 Pro and snapped selfies with a friend, testing out the camera the smartphone is famous for.

    However, out of concerns that Huawei devices may lose support for core Google services, the Brazilian businessman decided to hold onto his Samsung smartphone.

    "I would go for Huawei [smartphones] if they had Google [services]. I know it’s a very good phone. I know the P30 and [Huawei] Mate 20 [smartphones] are very good. The problem is the Google apps. For example, my personal emails and my business emails are all Google. I have five different emails on Google. A smartphone without Google just would not work for me, because I use it for work", Rodrigues told Sputnik.

    Chinese smartphone maker Huawei is facing problems with getting support for Google’s popular apps, such as Gmail, the Google Play Store and YouTube, on its smartphones, after the US tech giant was forced to suspend its business with Huawei on Sunday to comply with President Donald Trump’s decision to put the Chinese smartphone vendor on the Entity List of the Department of Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS).

    The BIS accused Huawei of engaging in activities that threaten US national security and go against foreign policy interests. The sale and transfer of US technology to a company or a person on the Entity List requires a license issued by the BIS.

    Following the decision from the BIS to issue a 90-day temporary general license to Huawei on Monday, Google said it would continue to provide software updates and security patches to existing Huawei devices for the same period, media reported on Tuesday.

    READ MORE: Microsoft Joins Google's Crackdown on Huawei Amid US Blacklisting

    Huawei’s potential troubles with Google came as part of the Trump administration’s efforts to target and curb the Chinese telecommunications giant amid stalled bilateral trade negotiations that failed to resolve escalating trade tensions between China and the United States.

    Trump signed an executive order last week effectively banning Huawei from taking part in the construction of 5G wireless networks in the United States. At the same time, US authorities have been trying to convince its Western allies to avoid using Huawei hardware in their 5G networks.

    Competitive Disadvantage

    The possibility of losing support of Google services on its smartphones could deal a huge blow to Huawei, especially in key Europeans markets that have been driving the company’s growth in markets outside of China, industry analysts suggested.

    "If the ban goes ahead consumers will still be able to use Google search and the maps by installing them themselves. But Huawei will be put at a severe competitive disadvantage. Lots of Russian consumers uses Gmail and the Google Apps store, and want the latest Android updates. They may turn to other brands as a result", Simon Baker, program director of mobile phones covering markets of Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa at market intelligence firm International Data Corporation (IDC), told Sputnik.

    Before running into potential trouble with Google services, Huawei enjoyed strong growth in European markets.

    According to the latest data from International Data Corporation, Huawei was the only smartphone vendor at the top of the market that saw shipping volumes grow during the first quarter of 2019, posting a year-over-year growth of 50.3 percent with volumes of 59.1 million units and a 19.0 percent market share globally.

    Huawei’s strong growth in Europe in the first quarter of 2019 was backed by strong sales in key markets such as Russia, the Czech Republic, Turkey and Poland in Eastern Europe, where the company's market share jumped to 29 percent from only 11 percent during the first quarter of 2018, the latest data from market research firm Counterpoint Research showed.

    During the first quarter of 2019, Huawei’s overall market share in Europe rose to 26 percent and overtook Apple to become the second largest smartphone vendor on the continent, trailing Samsung by only 5 percentage points, according to the data from Counterpoint Research.

    Digital Journey

    Vartan Kazaryan, a sales person specializing in selling Huawei smartphones at the electronics store mentioned above, TechnoPark, believed that strong features such as outstanding cameras could convince some Russian consumers to buy Huawei devices even without support of Google services.

    "Even with Google’s support, Huawei smartphones are still great camera phones. People who want to use [such features] of a smartphone, I don’t think having Google or not would affect their decision too much. If the person wants to use a good camera, Huawei smartphones still can be used to synchronize data and contacts as they’re still Android-based devices," Kazaryan told Sputnik.

    READ MORE: Key German Tech Company Denies It Stopped Shipments to Huawei

    The sales person argued that Google services were not as important for Russian users as they had domestic alternative service providers such as Yandex.

    "Russian users have Russian services. They have Yandex maps and browser. It’s more of a problem of [the user’s] habit. But that habit can be adjusted. You know, it [Google services] will just be a few clicks away. You still can enter YouTube or Google search through a browser. You just won’t have the special apps for it", he said.

    But for Dima Strekalov, a fitness trainer from Moscow who has been using Google services for over eight years, the domestic Russian services cannot replace Google services.

    "For myself, I will not buy a phone without Google. With Google’s services, you can save your photos and documents easily and access them anywhere you want. Google also has smarter maps than Yandex", Strekalov told Sputnik.

    Industry analysts explained that a consumer’s preference to use Google services was difficult to change because such habits were shaped in the early stages of the person’s digital journey.

    "People’s first digital step is when they become first time smartphone users. And almost all of them started with Android. Very few people switched from feature phones to [high-end] iPhones. Whenever you buy your first device, the experience from your first particular device shapes your digital journey. You’re sometimes addicted to that. It’s always like this. Whatever we used at first in our lives, we have a very strong and positive connection with that. Now after going through 3-4 devices, they have already used Android for over 10 years. A lot of Google services are very popular. For example, many people in the emerging markets started their digital journey by setting up a Gmail account", Tarun Pathak, associate director at Counterpoint Research, told Sputnik.

    Huawei’s Plan B

    Since most of Google's services are blocked in China, smartphones shipped with Android operating systems (OS) in the country are usually based on the open source version of the operating system known as the Android Open Sources Project (AOSP).

    The AOSP-based smartphones sold in China come with a localized app store to replace the Google Play Store for users to download different apps. A number of services offered by local providers, such as Tencent’s QQ email and WeChat or Baidu’s search and maps, have replaced the functionality of Google services.

    READ MORE: Microsoft Joins Google's Crackdown on Huawei Amid US Blacklisting

    However, while losing Google's support would have little impact on Huawei’s competitive edge in the Chinese market, the Shenzhen-based company can not solely rely on the domestic market, industry analysts pointed out.

    "The short answer is no, Huawei would not be able to survive in the long run without access to critical Google services like Gmail or Maps. Huawei’s shipments globally are split fairly evenly 50:50 between China and international markets, and pretty much all of those international markets are heavily reliant on Google services", Melissa Chau, associate research director of Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers at IDC, told Sputnik.

    In response to the prospects of losing support of Google services on Huawei devices, Yu Chengdong, CEO of Consumer Business Group at Huawei, said the company had been developing its own mobile OS and planned to bring it to the market by this fall or next spring, Chinese media Phoenix Technology reported on Tuesday.

    Even if Huawei releases its own mobile OS, the company would still face similar challenges when it comes to integrating popular Google services, because the situation with Google in China is very unique and cannot be duplicated anywhere else in the world, Pathak from Counterpoint Research argued.

    "It’s possible to bring an alternative OS. But the point is how you’re going to integrate the basic and very popular Google services like Gmail, YouTube and Maps. They [Huawei] can obviously use the AOSP, but for Google services, you need to apply for a license from Google. It’ll be difficult for them to get away from Google services, because what has happened in China is completely different from what has happened in the rest of the world. It’s difficult to replace something that has been used for years in one single night. Comparing it to China is a bit unfair, because China is a different market altogether", he said.

    READ MORE: Huawei Founder Discussing US Ban with Google — Reports

    Chau from IDC pointed out that Huawei faced a daunting task if it wanted to cultivate an overseas user base that did not rely on Google services, similar to the Chinese users.

    "While it is possible to cultivate, I do think that Google is such a dominant partner in this industry that it would be an incredibly difficult uphill struggle to fix this, particularly in the short to medium term. Certainly this is eye opening for any Android partner to consider how to fix this balance, but we’ve seen various hardware manufacturers as big as Samsung make attempts with alternative OSes and services, and found they were not able to overcome Google’s power in services", she said.

    Nevertheless, the analyst believed it was still possible for Huawei to find a solution with Google, because the company is caught in what is essentially a political dispute, and there remains time for a solution to be found before permanent damage is made.


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