Huawei was on-track to become the largest smartphone maker in the world a year ago, but 2019 brought with it new challenges for the Chinese megacorporation. The US government instituted a technology export ban that cut it off from Google services. A Huawei executive has now said the company won’t go back to Google services even if the US lifts the trade ban.
Following the trade ban, Huawei had to launch several devices without Google apps and services. Its sales have turned downward as fewer users are interested in a device that lacks things like Gmail and Google Maps. Yet, Huawei’s sales haven’t dropped as much as many expected. Now, Fred Wangfei, Huawei’s manager for Austria, has told reporters that the company doesn’t plan to use Google services again even if the trade ban ends. For Huawei, relying on Google is just too risky when a new US administration can throw its plans into disarray at any time.
Huawei’s troubles started in 2018 when the US government under Trump stepped in to pressure AT&T and Verizon to cancel the launch of Huawei’s Mate 10 Pro. That device eventually launched in the US unlocked, but Huawei pulled back on its US plans following the last-minute cancellations. No matter, though — Huawei was still selling more phones than ever worldwide. So, it didn’t really need the US market. It did rely on US technology, and that made Huawei vulnerable. Adding Huawei to the Commerce Department’s “Entity List” in spring 2019 meant US firms couldn’t export technology to Huawei, and that included Google.
At the end of 2018, Huawei was within striking distance of Samsung, which was the largest smartphone maker in the world. Now, Apple has edged Samsung out to reclaim the top spot as smaller Chinese OEMs increasingly eat Samsung’s lunch. Huawei has fallen to a distant third, but sales were only 7-10 percent lower (depending on who you ask) in the 4th quarter of 2019 compared with 2018. Sales in China, which lacks Google services, probably account for a big chunk of that.
According to Wangfei, Huawei believes it can thrive by building its own ecosystem. Going back to Google could just cause another disruption in its business if the company finds itself in the sights of another president. It has already signed a deal with TomTom to get mapping data, and its custom Android app store is growing. There’s even the Harmony OS platform, which could eventually replace Android on Huawei phones. Executives believe Huawei could experience further sales losses, but it will be better in the long-term if it frees itself from dependence on US tech.
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