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Huawei P40 debuts with flagship features, but lack of Google services brings uncertainty

“Neither the US sanctions nor the pandemic had a major impact on us,” said Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei.

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Chinese electronics manufacturer Huawei has released a new flagship series of 5G phones via an online event on March 26. While the handsets feature top-of-the-line specs and cameras, it remains uncertain whether this is enough to tempt western customers away from the Google ecosystem—something it has been trying to do by touting the performance of its technology.

Although the new devices, the P40, P40 Pro, and P40 Pro+, are all powered by Huawei’s in-house 5G Kirin 990 processors and filled with flagship features, they are still locked out of Google services, including Gmail, YouTube, Maps, and Play Store apps, because of US sanctions.

Huawei projects that its annual smartphone shipments will fall around 20% in 2020, to around 190 million to 200 million units, as a result of its inclusion of US blacklist in May. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the outlook even tougher, the Information wrote, citing sources.

Nevertheless, Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei said “neither the US sanctions nor the pandemic had a major impact on us, “during an interview with the South China Morning Post. “We believe the impact is minimal, and we can pull through it,” he added.

He said that Huawei’s scientists and experts are racing to develop new technologies amid the pandemic, without disclosing further details.

As a knock-on effect of the trade war between the US and China and the Trump administration’s ban prohibiting companies from doing business with Huawei, Google is barred from partnering with the Chinese telecom giant. Therefore, it is unable to obtain an Android license and can’t access any Google service, which many western customers rely on.

In response, Huawei has turned to performance power, especially the quality of its smartphone cameras, and to its own mobile ecosystem, Huawei Mobile System (HMS), in a hope to bridge the value gap created by their devices’ lack of Google services.

According to Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s consumer business group, HMS has already covered 170 countries and regions, serving 400 million daily active users. The company unveiled the HMS officially at a developer conference in August 2019 and announced the Honor V30, the first HMS-equipped handset, in Europe this February.

In this latest release, the basic P40 has a 6.1-inch screen and a refresh rate at 60Hz, as well as three rear cameras that support 3x optical zoom. With a bigger 6.58-inch display, the P40 Pro adds a Time-of-Flight depth sensor and ungraded telephoto lens, enabling 5X optical zoom, while the P40 Pro+ can achieve 10x long-range optical zoom.

All these three models are preinstalled with HMS, including Huawei’s AppGallery, Mobile Cloud, Video, and Map. The company also introduced its own Siri rival, a multilingual voice assistant called Celia, which supports English, French and Spanish.

In 2019, Huawei shipped more than 240 million units globally, surpassing Apple to become the world’s second-largest smartphone vendor, trailing only Samsung, according to industry data provider IDC.

“Huawei’s performance continued to be strong in China, but while it has been diligently building up a presence as a top tier smartphone player in Western Europe, that’s where shipments saw the biggest hit,” said Melissa Chau, associate research director with global intelligence firm IDC. She added that things will continue to be challenging for Huawei, due to the trade war and the impact of coronavirus, which started to affect China in January.

Huawei says it has resumed more than 90% of its production and development operations.

At yesterday’s event, Yu said the P40 Series has been manufactured and is ready to be shipped to stores across the globe. The P40 and P40 Pro will be on sale on April 7 with a starting price of EU 799 (USD 881) and EU 999 (USD 1,102) respectively. The P40 Pro+ will be available in June, priced at EU 1,399 (USD 1,543). The domestic online release of these models is scheduled for April 8.