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Friday, 19 February 2021 15:38

Huawei Mate 40 launch video, Sydney CBD Experience Store tour, interview with Consumer MD Larking Huang


Huawei launched its Mate 40 series late last year, and despite no Google Play, it still challenges Samsung's latest S21 series for the most advanced Android phone of all. Could President Biden restore Huawei's access to Google this year?

If President Trump hadn't put Huawei on the "Entity" list, that prevents Google and other companies like even the Taiwanese TSMC foundry from selling products and services including processors to Huawei, which oddly has never included Windows 10, then there's no question that Huawei smartphones would likely be the most popular in the world, with its current flagship Mate 40 series the best it offers, although rumours suggest the Huawei P50 series is due at the end of March 2021.

Huawei has consistently put in much more advanced camera technology in its flagship smartphones much earlier than Samsung or Apple, while being much faster at copying features like Apple's iOS UI swiping elements much faster than Samsung did with its UI overlay onto Android.

Today, Huawei's flagship smartphone, the Mate 40 series, still has market leading features - a 5nm processor, super advanced cameras, curved screens and all the rest, with the major sticking point being the lack of Google Mobile Services and Google Play. This might also see Huawei produce fewer smartphones in 2021, if a recent report ends up being accurate. 

As I noted in my article about Huawei opening its second Huawei Experience Store in Sydney's CBD in October last year, its P40 series smartphones are able to run a very wide range of software written for Android, which even to this very day, as in today as I'm typing this, includes Google apps like Google Chrome and Google Maps, Netflix, Firefox, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Fortnite, Google Translate, Arlo, Waze, the Samsung Internet Browser, NordVPN, VLC, BitDefender and many others. Even Apple Music works without a problem.

And while Tunein Radio just popped up a warning that it doesn't work if Google Mobile Services isn't installed, my choice of radio stations, both local and international, played without a hitch.

And while the APKPure App Store I'm using doesn't offer as smooth an update process as Google Play and the iOS App Store, which are entirely automatic where APK Pure makes me manually authorise each installation, it still works, with many apps available without issue.

Of course there are some apps that have issues - Payroller and SoundCloud are two apps that still work but won't update for some reason, although I haven't looked for alternate versions that are available via Petal Search as I type, and other issues with apps that won't install or aren't available as they rely on various aspects of GMS, so Huawei's current non-Google Play phones clearly aren't for everyone, or the much easier choice they were when Google Play was fully supported.

And while there are ways to get GMS and Google Play installed onto Huawei phones for those that are keen to do so, it's obviously not ideal.

The article continues below, but first, three videos - the first being the Australian launch of the Mate 40 series, then a look at some of the products inside Huawei's Sydney CBD Experience Store, and finally a video interview with Larking Huang, the MD of Huawei Consumer Australia. I filmed these late last year and have been meaning to upload them ever since, and time flies very, very fast, so apologies to you, the reader and viewer, for not getting these up sooner, and apologies to Huawei for not getting them up sooner, too.

After the three videos, I talk about how I am an iPhone user, and I speculate about if or when newly installed US President Biden might allow Google to allow Google Play access on Huawei devices again, even if Huawei will undoubtedly continue developing its GMS equivalent, HMS (Huawei Mobile Services) and its own Huawei App Gallery so that it can be free of future US threats - please read on after these three videos!

Now, it must be said that I am an iPhone user, and I prefer the iOS ecosystem with its greater emphasis on security and privacy, and a greater availability of apps that can sometimes take longer to become available on Android.

I love the iPhone 12 Pro Max for being Apple's most advanced iPhone yet, with cameras that have started offering some of the features Huawei cameras have had for a while, and I also love the iPhone 12 mini for having a bigger screen than an iPhone 6, 7 or 8, in a smaller body.

But it's certainly important that Huawei continue upping the ante and competing as hard as it can, even in the face of massive roadblocks placed in front of it by the US Government, because it pushes all manufacturers, including market leaders like Apple and Samsung, to offer ever better products and services to consumers.

Now, what about President Biden allowing Huawei to use the full Google Mobile Services and Google Play store again? Of course, I have absolutely no idea if or when this will happen.

However, when it comes to US politics, it seems there's no secret that the new President Biden is a lot friendly to China than former President Trump ever was, with Trump's "Cold War" against China seeing Huawei as a casualty.

Of course, Trump, along with former Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull and other nations worry that any Chinese company must, by Chinese law, acquiesce to Chinese Government demands, but is the situation all that different for US companies at the US Government?

Microsoft says it was "legally compelled to comply" in handing the US NSA agency access to encrypted messages, according to The Guardian, and while Apple has famously refused to comply with FBI demands to unlock phones, there was no such refusal by Apple to China demands that VPN apps be removed from the Chinese Apple App Store, while Apple also removed 46,000 apps from the same store that were not properly licensed by the Chinese Government and removed a police tracking app from the HK Apple App Store too, something it would presumably not do in the US for BLM protestors had they made a similar app. 

China is of course well known as a communist one-party dictatorship with only the freedoms the government allows you to have when it allows you to have them, and while the US is supposedly the bastion of freedom and democracy, which is obviously a very key difference, the US still has the rule of law, the courts, media freedoms, and the constitution and its first and second amendments that China does not have.

All of that said, former President Trump did allow Microsoft to continue selling Windows to Huawei for its otherwise excellent MateBook PCs, so given the US is more than happy to have done that, there remains a possibility that the newly installed President Biden, who appears to be much friendlier to China than Trump ever was, and even though Biden says he discussed human rights with President Xi.

So, given the fact President Biden does appear to have a closer and warmer relationship with China, the world may well see Huawei allowed access to the full Google Mobile Service (GMS) and Google Play ecosystem, although with Huawei well advanced with its own Huawei Mobile Service (HMS) and Huawei App Gallery ecosystem, Huawei trusting Google and the US to not remove such access in the future would be crazy.

So whatever happens with President Biden, China, President Xi and Google, Huawei is obviously accelerating its efforts to be as self sufficient as possible, because no-one wants to be under the thumb of anyone else, with Australia certainly feeling the brunt of Facebook's wrath this week, as an example.

And finally, I do hope that Biden does allow Huawei and Google to work together again. Huawei's technology is excellent, and it's a shame its phones and tablets have been hobbled in the western world by not having effortless Google Play access, not that this causes Huawei any concern in China where Google is banned anyway.

Perhaps if there was less banning of people and things in this world, and more free market capitalism rather than dictatorships of any political flavour, so that people can freely choose with their hearts, minds and wallets, the world would be a better place, but sadly, those particular issues are out of my hands.

In the meantime, if you're an experienced smartphone user, you'll have no trouble with any of Huawei's current phones, but if you prefer the safety of Google Play, or the even greater safety of the iOS and Apple ecosystem, then one of the many other Androids or any iPhone would be a logical choice.

Again, there's no such issue with any Huawei Matebook Windows 10 PC, which are even widely available in JB Hi-Fi stores, as the US Government has always allowed Microsoft to sell Windows 10 licenses to Huawei, and none of Huawei's other products are affected - its smartwatches, Bluetooth smart glasses, Bluetooth ear buds and other devices all work with iOS or Android without any issues that I'm aware of, so the next time you're in either Chatswood or the Sydney CBD, check out the Huawei Experience Store to see what it's like for yourself.


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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