Dusseldorf A camera with ultra-wide angle and telephoto zoom, a borderless display with rounded corners, 14 antennas for mobile phone reception, plus a large battery: the Mate 30 is a smartphone of superlatives. Nevertheless, manufacturer Huawei has decided not to introduce it widely. The device has recently been sold “in a limited edition” in the Media Markt online shop for 1099 euros – nowhere else.
The reason for the reluctance is not the hardware, but the software. Since the United States sanctioned Huawei, American companies have only been able to do business with the Chinese manufacturer under strict conditions. The services of Google Therefore, including the Play Store are missing on the smartphone, and with it apps from Whatsapp to the pick-up calendar of the municipal utility company. For many buyers, the device should not be an option.
Huawei does not want to be satisfied with this situation. The second largest smartphone manufacturer in the world, which dominates the market in China and is one of the big brands in Europe, is investing heavily in building its own App Gallery platform.
He has been courting the providers of important apps for several weeks now – including subsidies. There are three billion dollars available worldwide, 20 million euros in Germany, and the fees for the sale of programs and content are low compared to the competition.
Some well-known German companies are already there, among them Lufthansa, Pro7, Otto and GMX. A Handelsblatt research shows, however, that skepticism is considerable, many well-known apps are missing – from Deutsche Bahn with its DB Navigator to Blinkist with book summaries. And because of the embargo, it is difficult for American companies to offer their programs anyway. “It’s not that easy to set up an app store,” says Alexander Trommen, head of the digital agency Appsfactory. “Huawei only has one chance to do it – there won’t be a second.”
First smartphones without US components
Depending on the reading, Huawei is either a threat to national security or a collateral damage in the trade conflict between the United States and China. Donald Trump’s government accuses the electronics manufacturer of industrial espionage, Huawei describes these allegations as false and politically motivated.
Either way: Companies that are located in the USA or develop a substantial part of their products there are only allowed to do limited business with the manufacturer, in network technology as well as in smartphones.
The conflict has not yet been resolved, and the Chinese flagship company is now working on alternatives. Apparently, there is hardware, with the Mate 30 and the Y9 Prime, according to media reports, the first models without American suppliers. The software is much more difficult: the manufacturer can continue to use the Android operating system – the core is freely available due to an open source license – but not the services of Google such as the Play Store and Google Maps.
However, this is important, at least in Europe (in China, where Google is not active, numerous platforms have emerged). What use is the best camera if you cannot forward the pictures via WhatsApp or post them on Instagram? And what does the brilliant screen help if you have to log in to the video portal via the browser due to the lack of an app? And what about the many other helpers who make everyday life easier or provide variety?
The Mate 30 is an example of this: sales are sluggish in many countries, as Annette Zimmermann, an analyst at market researcher Gartner, observes. Marketing will also be difficult with future models: “Without the Google services, sales on the international markets will collapse,” she predicts. At the moment, models like the P30 are still popular, Huawei can boost sales with price reductions. “In the second or third quarter at the latest, there will be a slump outside of China.”
Favorable conditions for developers
To make itself independent of Google, Huawei is expanding the App Gallery. A department at the corporate headquarters as well as numerous teams in different countries speak to developers – according to company data, there are 100 in Europe. In Germany, this is currently happening “on a larger scale”, as Appsfactory boss Trommen reports. In addition to technical support for programming, the company also offers financial grants.
Usually, it is several thousand euros, depending on the amount of work, Trommen said. It also promises favorable conditions. There are no transaction fees in the first year when developers sell apps or services, in the following years they gradually increase to 15 percent. In the case of games, 15 percent are due from the start. For comparison: Apple and Google keep up to 30 percent.
However, the developers are cautious. Blinkist is exemplary of this. “We focus on customers and the innovation potential, we are not dogmatic,” says co-founder Niklas Jansen. However, the company does not have to be a “first mover” with the knowledge app, explains the CEO. Especially since there is no indication that the investment would be worthwhile. It sounds similar to others: Deutsche Bahn, for example, whose “DB Navigator” is used by millions of travelers, explains that “there are no concrete plans for cooperation”.
The involvement of American companies is even more questionable: they fall under the sanctions of the US government if they cannot use the exemption. Facebook In summer, for example, Huawei prohibited preinstalling its own apps. The group did not comment on the current status on request. Huawei reacted evasively: “We work proactively with global developers and partners to ensure user satisfaction.”
Where does skepticism come from? For one thing, some companies should be put off by the effort. This means that developers cannot simply copy an Android app over there. Although there is a compiler that re-translates the source code, some adjustments are still necessary.
“The initial effort depends on whether an application uses Google’s interfaces,” explains Appsfactory boss Trommen. Developers, for example, have to exchange the payment service of the internet company, as well as the card offer or data analysis software.
Regular costs through updates
With a complex app that uses three Google services, Trommen calculates that it will take 15 to 30 man days, which alone adds up to 10,000 to 20,000 euros. But it does not stop there: there are also the adjustments that are required for each update. “Every new version has to be tested”, the entrepreneur gives an example. This requires developer capacities, and they are notoriously scarce.
Especially since the compilation is not the ideal way. The effort seems minimal, but Huawei’s software is currently unstable and only works in rare cases, says Panos Meyer, head of the Cellular digital agency. An early availability is not likely. In any case, an application is best adapted to the user experience of a platform – “this is the only way simple and stringent operation is possible”. The success of Android apps on Harmony OS is therefore questionable from the digital specialist’s point of view.
Last but not least, the yield is uncertain. For the development to be worthwhile, the providers have to reach a certain user base – whether with advertising-financed apps or the sale of content. This has also been difficult in the App Gallery so far, the platform contains more than 50,000 applications internationally – for comparison: the Google Play Store has 2.8 million programs.
Industry insiders estimate that Huawei has to get at least 10,000 apps that cover different target groups within a few months – “Otherwise people will notice that there is no full app store,” explains Appsfactory boss. And to make it worthwhile for developers, at least one million users should use the platform regularly.
A few examples show how difficult this is. Microsoft tried unsuccessfully to build Windows Mobile to the third platform alongside iOS and Android – the group stopped developing the software, a few days ago it delivered the last update. Also BlackBerry and Nokia failed to build their own operating systems and ecosystem. And Samsung continues to operate the Galaxy Store, but this is only an addition to the Google Play Store.
So what are the prospects? Huawei has some prerequisites to build another ecosystem, says cellular chief Panos Meyer. The group “has the resources and has a sufficiently large market share to take the next step” – and there is now a trigger due to the political situation. Nevertheless, the hurdles and the risk are great.
The boss of a large German internet company, who does not want to be named, is very skeptical that Huawei will be successful with the App Gallery. “The smartphone has become such an essential part of life that users definitely don’t want to do without certain apps,” he says. “The problem: Not everyone is using the same favorite apps.” Without a wide range, the platform would therefore not be competitive.
He believes that Huawei can close the gaps quickly enough. The App Gallery therefore does not play a role in his company’s plans. Instead, the developers are debating whether to offer a version for the Windows Store. It is installed on more than 900 million PCs and tablets around the world – Huawei is still a long way from that.
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