Huawei Consumer Business Group (CBG) SA chief tech
Huawei Consumer Business Group (CBG) SA chief technology officer Akhram Mohamed and Huawei CBG SA vice president Zhao Likun (photo by James de Villiers)
  • Huawei, which sells more smartphones in SA than any company other than Samsung, is still unsure whether its future devices will have popular applications such as Facebook or Twitter. 
  • New Huawei phones are due in SA in the next two to three months – after what the company says is delays caused by regulatory approval.
  • Despite trouble with the US government, Huawei saw big growth in 2019.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Huawei, which sells more smartphones in South African than any company except Samsung, says new phones will be launched in SA in the next two or three months – but it still does not know whether those phones will have popular Android applications such as Facebook or Twitter.

That uncertainty is a lingering effect of the US government ban on commercial agreements between American companies and Huawei last year, over espionage concerns that Huawei has vehemently denied. 

In an interview with Business Insider South Africa, Huawei Consumer Business Group Southern Africa vice president Zhao Likun said that due to the ban, the Chinese manufacturer may not be able to use Android with Google’s Mobile Service (GMS) on future devices. 

Instead, Huawei intends to use Huawei Mobile Service (HMS) which is built on top of Android’s open source code. 

Huawei's alternative Harmony OS, which it launched to much fanfare in August, will be only used in the long term, with the first Huawei watches expected to run it in 2021, Likun said. 

This would mean future Huawei devices will not come pre-installed with the Google Play Store – which contains most popular applications, or Google services such as maps, email, or its voice assistant. 

Also read: Huawei partnered with TomTom for a new map app for its phones after being cut off from Google Maps

Huawei believes 90% of the applications that work on the commercial GMS (which is subject to US government sanctions) would be able to work on HMS (which is non-commercial and not affected by sanctions).

Huawei Consumer Business Group South Africa Chief Technology Officer Akhram Mohamed believes the remaining 10%, which is dependent on Google services such as maps to operate, can easily be ported within three days with limited development work to rely on Huawei's map services instead. 

American app developers – such as Facebook, which owns WhatsApp and Instagram – will have to port their applications, then upload those for distribution via Huawei’s own application store. They can do this without any commercial agreement in place with Huawei, because the apps are free, Mohamed said.

But the legal implications of doing so are not yet clear.

"Will there be a restriction, is it legal or not? We don't know,” Mohamed told Business Insider South Africa.

For paid apps, Huawei hopes to lure developers to its platform by giving them a 85% cut of what users are charged, compared to the 70% they get via Google's app store, Likun said.

He said Huawei is also working with South African banking and entertainment partners to launch applications on HMS. 

Also read: Huawei offers UK developers R375 million to build apps for its flagship phones, after being banned from using Google's app store

If it is impossible to deliver apps via Huawei's app store, there are two other workarounds. Users can download the apps from the developers directly - for example, by going to Facebook's website to download its app; or they can skip apps entirely and use services such as Facebook via the web, accessing it through a web browser like Chrome.

Ban or not, South Africans bought Huawei phones in 2019

The US ban, which caused consternation as Huawei's future functionality was thrown into doubt, did not seem to scare off South African buyers. During 2019 Huawei smartphone sales in South Africa grew by 22%, Likun said.

In the middle of the year, as news of the US sanctions broke, there was an initial hit to sales, Mohamed said, but by the end of 2019 things had stabilised, making for good growth "in a time where everybody thought we were in crisis."

To date South Africans have not been able to buy the Mate 30 series from Huawei, however – and Likun can not yet confirm a launch date for the range and other upcoming smartphones. 

This is due to regulatory processes, he said.

Mohamed, however, said they have received a very positive response from network providers, as Huawei remains a “very critical partner when it comes from volumes or revenues”.  

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