Huawei gambles on Google free phones

A person holding a phone.
A person holds the phone at launch. Photo credit: Getty

Huawei has taken a gamble on its smartphone business, launching its new Mate 30 range without Google support.

Instead, the world's number two in phones, is using its own software ecosystem and has pre-installed some alternative apps.

US$1billion (NZ$1.5 billion) is also being invested for further marketing and development, including an incentive for developers to make their apps compatible. 

Forty-five thousand have already integrated the firm's technology but none were named at Thursday's launch event in Munich, Germany.

"Today you know because of the US ban…this phone cannot pre-install the GMS [Google Mobile Services] core. It forced us to use the HMS [Huawei Mobile Services} core," said Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei's Consumer Business Group. 

He only discussed the issue very briefly at the end of the launch event, choosing instead to focus on all the innovation that's gone into the range and there's plenty to excite fans.

The phones are being touted as the world's first 'second generation' 5G handsets, with greater power efficiency and longer battery life than other models currently available, as well as the potential for faster internet speeds.

Huawei claims the phones can download 25 times faster than the fastest 4G phones.

As usual, the camera on its new phones is cutting-edge with plenty of potential to be best in class.

Features of the main Mate 30 Pro include a 40 megapixel 'super-sensing' camera which helps with low light photography, an 8MP camera with a 3x optical zoom, and a 40MP 'cine camera' which is especially for video use. It has a wider-ratio sensor than others. There is also a 3D depth-sensing camera which helps to provide a more realistic bokeh effect to photos and videos.

A phone on its side.
The phone. Photo credit: Supplied/Huawei

The smaller model features the same camera as well as a 16MP wide-angle version and an 8MP lens for portraits.

'Rethink the possibilities' is Huawei's tagline for the range, but can it actually convince buyers to do that?

The US ban on tech firms, such as Google, trading with Huawei won't worry China, still the largest smartphone market, but the same can't be said internationally.

After some spectacular growth in smartphone sales, numbers started falling recently when the ban came into effect and while the new Mate range might be crammed with cool tech, Western users will most definitely miss apps like Gmail, Google Maps and YouTube.

Of course, there is a workaround, although Huawei has been understandably coy about promoting that.

The phones run on open-source Android so users can still search for and download certain apps themselves, a practice known as 'side loading'.

It's already used for games such as Fortnite but it's not entirely without risk and could leave people open to malware and other issues.

Mate phones have always been popular in New Zealand and the Mate 30 Pro is set to be brought here which is great news as it's definitely worth a look. When, how many, how much, or how well they'll do are all questions yet to be answered but Huawei remains optimistic.

"The political interference has set out to do damage to us and we have felt the effect of that locally,  but we're hopeful. We've built a good connection with Kiwi customers and they like our products and services," said Andrew Bowater, Huawei NZ's deputy chief executive.

'It's not a situation where we want to be or where we want our customers to be but Huawei's overcome a lot of challenges in the past and we'll continue to keep fighting.'

Thursday's event wasn't just about phones. Huawei also debuted the Watch GT2, the successor to last year's smartwatch. It comes in two sizes, 46mm and a new 42mm.

A Huawei TV was also announced with a pop-up camera that can be used to make video calls and get feedback from a fitness exercise app.

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