Today is the day that Huawei announces the P40 series, the latest in its flagship smartphone series that people would normally be very excited about. But that's not the case this time round, or it doesn't seem to be at any rate. That's because Huawei is still in that situation where it's not allowed access to Google Play Services, and thus you can't download any apps from the Google Play Store. That's going to be the case for a long time, and anyone who buys a Huawei device released after last summer won't have access to nearly as many apps as someone who bought a P30 this time last year.
And yet, as proven time and again, Huawei is still charging a premium for its devices. Devices that are, in effect, completely crippled as a result of their inability to access Google Play.
I know I'm not the only one that sees how downright ridiculous this seems to be. After all, the base level P40 is £699, which only £30 less than the base iPhone 11 which has access to a plentiful app store that has been cultivated for years to include all the services people know and use. Similarly the Mate 30 Pro cost £899 when it launched, which is the same price as base Galaxy S20 – a phone that has access to Google Play and wasn't released at that price five months after it was originally announced.
Huawei has been making a big deal of its App Gallery in recent times, particularly since the launch of the Mate XS and the announcement that the company was gunning to turn App Gallery into a serious contender to other app stores. Those plans have accelerated with the launch of the P40 Pro, with Huawei making bold claims about all the apps that are being added to the service. Huawei hasn't said how many apps are available, emphasising that it's quality over quantity.
But you can't really claim quality when the popular apps aren't available. At the time of writing (before the P40 launch event) Huawei App Gallery didn't have Twitter, any Facebook apps (including WhatsApp and Instagram), UK banking apps, streaming services, and loads more. They did have things like Reddit, TikTok, Snapchat, Tinder, Amazon, and more, so it's not like App Gallery is completely barren. This isn't Windows Phone, after all.
Naturally there are no Google apps either, because Google apps on Android require Google Play services to work properly. And say what you will about the company, their apps and services are incredibly useful. When was the last time you went looking for a video on Vimeo? There's the mobile YouTube site, but it's not the same is it?
Being Android you can also access apps from other third party sources like Amazon - which has been running for years and has a much wider selection. But even that doesn't have the same calibre as Google Play. All other Android devices have access to Google Play, and for developers that's going to be the main goal. Any work needed to add an app to an extra app store is work that could be spent doing other things, and if you're only servicing a small number of users then the costs could easily outweigh the benefits. Again look at how Windows Phone was routinely ignored by big developers, with users having to rely on third parties to access popular services.
It's not entirely the same situation since Huawei is still running on Android Open Source rather than something entirely different, but my point here is that app support can make or break a platform. In a vicious cycle you need the apps to convince the users to ditch the platform they know, but you need the users to convince the developers that it's worth their time. That's assuming there are no other incentives to get involved – but since we don't know what Huawei's pitch is for getting developers involved, there's no real way to speculate about that.
Of course, it is entirely possible to develop phones and tablets without Google Play, and without it being a failure. Look at Amazon, for instance, with its range of Fire tablets that run Fire OS and can only download apps from the Amazon App Store. It's Android, just not Google's approved Android, and that means you can't get onto Google Play without some messing about. The real difference here is that Amazon sells its tablets for dirt cheap. The cheapest sells for £50 (when it's not on sale) and the most expensive is £190. That's considerably less than the price of a Huawei handset.
I'm not saying Huawei shouldn't try and go it without Google. Far from it. If Huawei thinks it can succeed without having to pander to Google (and Trump) then go right ahead. They just need to stop acting as though nothing has changed, and people haven't been paying attention to what's going on. There's a difference between defiance and showing strength in a time like this, and sticking your fingers in your ears going "lalalalalalalalala" to pretend nothing bad is happening. Not letting its non-Chinese smartphone business collapse is the former, keeping them at similar prices to other flagships is the latter.
It goes without saying that Amazon tablets are also that cheap because they use cheap hardware. If you've ever used the 7-inch tablet you'll know that it is considerably slower than any sort of flagship device. The P40 series has plenty of flagship-tier specs, because Huawei clearly considers itself a top contender in the smartphone business. The camera especially has been given another boost with the base P40 coming with a 50MP camera lens, 8MP telephoto lens (3x optical zoom), a 16MP ultrawide angle lens, and two 32MP front cameras. Then you have specs like a 90Hz display, a Kirin 990 chipset, 40W wired and wireless fast charging, WiFi 6 support, and a 3,800 mAh battery.
Considering Huawei is still (it seems) business as usual in China, where Google Play has never been available, it's not like it was going to stagnate the hardware as a result of political action from the US government. So this was never going to be a budget device, but that doesn't mean it couldn't be cheaper. The P10 was £570 at launch, and while that's not cheap, per se, it's not as much as phones have become. There's no reason why Huawei couldn't drop the price of the P40 just a little bit, and make it (and its weaker selection of apps) more enticing. Because nobody wants to pay full price for a phone without all their favourite apps, no matter how big the camera sensor is this time around.
If Huawei wants its own app store to be able to rival Google or Apple's? Nothing wrong with that, but right now the apps available to not warrant paying this much for. It's amazing what people will live with if they don't feel like they're being ripped off.