Techilicious by Rajiv Makhni: Can Huawei’s App Gallery take on Google and Apple?

Updated on Mar 15, 2020 12:16 AM IST
Huawei has just thrown the gauntlet down and wants to become the alternative to Google Play Store and the Apple App Store
Huawei released two folding phones including the Mate X2 ahead of the competition
Huawei released two folding phones including the Mate X2 ahead of the competition
Hindustan Times | ByRajiv Makhni

At its most basic level, a smartphone is nothing more than the apps you have on it. Without apps, there would be no smartphone, no smartphone brands, no smartphone user and no trillion dollar smartphone market. And that fundamental fact has made the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store the two most powerful places on earth.

But Huawei has just thrown the gauntlet down and wants to become the third alternative to what has been an absolute stranglehold on the smartphone app business. If it succeeds, it’ll lead to a change more seismic than anything the smartphone business has ever seen. Let’s understand why Huawei even wants to attempt the impossible, and the chain of events that’s led to the current situation.

Huawei on a roll

Early 2019. Huawei is coasting. It already dominates the China market, it’s made great inroads into Europe, it’s opening up the US market and its entry into India, Russia and many other countries has been super successful. Huawei phones are cutting edge, the innovation and R&D are paying off, it’s getting glowing reviews across the world and it’s a matter of time before it becomes the No. 1 smartphone brand on the planet.

Caught in the cross fire

In a political and financial trade war between the US and China, Huawei becomes an unwitting victim. With its global dominance, hurting Huawei means the US can hurt China. The US passes sanctions that restrict US companies from doing business with Huawei and leans on its allies to do the same. This is effectively a crippling blow on a company that has suppliers and partners all across the world. But it’s in software that a nuclear bomb goes off right under Huawei’s feet. Without access to the Google Play Store, Huawei smartphones are more or less just expensive paperweights.

The Huawei App Gallery has glaring omissions like WhatsApp and Facebook
The Huawei App Gallery has glaring omissions like WhatsApp and Facebook

Huawei fights back

Huawei was resilient. It upped the ante in China and sold more phones at home than ever before, it continued to sell outside China due to temporary respites in the ban, it released phones way ahead of the competition including two folding phones and some devices that were complete powerhouses in camera and features. Huawei sold 230 million smartphones in 2019, which is around 30 million more than in 2018. But that doesn’t mean 2020 will be the same. These temporary respites could suddenly disappear. The ban could become permanent. Just relying on the China market wouldn’t satisfy Huawei’s global domination aspirations. It had to do something big and unprecedented. It had to have its own mobile services and its own app store that could compete and be better than Google’s Play Store.

The plan

Android is open source and thus an easy option for Huawei as an operating system. It also has its own OS, called Harmony. My bet would be on an open source Android along with multiple Huawei mobile services like Huawei ID, Huawei Mobile Cloud, Huawei Video, Huawei Maps and Huawei Browser. And then the holy grail. A Huawei App Gallery. The App Gallery is already available in over 170 countries with 400 million monthly active users. But true success for the App Gallery will happen when it has almost all the top 100 apps used by consumers worldwide. Right now there are glaring omissions like WhatsApp and Facebook. Huawei plans to invest more than a billion dollars to ensure all the right developers are attracted.

Help from others

A Huawei mobile service platform and app gallery is a very attractive proposition for smartphone brands and manufacturers who’d love to break their reliance on the Google App Store. For app developers too, a platform willing to put mega bucks in is a very attractive proposition as Google Play Store policies are pretty one sided. Thus Huawei seems to have some momentum behind them.

Could Huawei actually pull it off? I for one would be thrilled to see Huawei succeed in its very ambitious venture. What about you? Would you be willing to give an alternative platform a shot?

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

Techilicious appears every fortnight

From HT Brunch, March 15, 2020

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