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No more Gmail: Huawei set to launch first phone without Google app

Written by Nikkei Asia Published on   3 mins read

US ban threatens blow to Chinese tech flagship’s global sales.

GUANGZHOU — Huawei Technologies’ new smartphones slated for release this month are expected to ship without any Google apps, after the U.S. government decided not to extend a partial reprieve on the Chinese company’s blacklisting.

This decision will first affect the Mate 30, the flagship smartphone set to be unveiled in Munich in mid-September. The foldable Mate X, which is expected to go on sale by the end of the month, will also be free of Google products and services.

This loss is expected to contribute to a drop of more than 10 million units in Huawei’s smartphone sales this year, analysts say.

The U.S. shows no signs of softening its stance on China’s top telecommunications equipment maker. President Donald Trump reiterated on Wednesday that Huawei poses concerns for national security.

“We are not doing business with Huawei. It’ll stop almost completely in a very short period of time,” he said. Trump does not plan to discuss sanctions on the company in trade talks with China expected to resume in October.

While Huawei has been preparing for the potential loss of access to Google’s Android mobile operating system, news of Google’s stance on withholding preinstalled apps from upcoming phones came as a shock to the company in late August.

The U.S. Commerce Department in May imposed a trade embargo on Huawei, banning exports of American software and chips to the company. But it granted a 90-day grace period for certain companies like Google in order to protect the interests of American consumers.

That expired on Aug. 19. But while the Commerce Department extended the reprieve in certain areas by another 90 days, Google was not one of them.

The Commerce Department’s move will not affect Huawei smartphones sold in China, which are already banned from carrying Google software by the Chinese government. But it threatens to stunt Huawei’s growth in overseas markets, where customers are used to having Gmail and Google Maps on their phones.

“Unit sales overseas will probably plunge by 30% or more,” said one Chinese analyst. Huawei is estimated to have shipped about 100 million smartphones in China and another 100 million abroad last year.

British research company IHS Markit predicts Huawei’s overseas sales will fall by 13 million phones to a total of 88 million in 2019.

“The company will have a harder time boosting sales of the budget models that it had been planning to increase in Europe,” another analyst said.

Google’s Android operating system itself is open source and thus is not targeted by the U.S. export ban. But Huawei nevertheless is preparing its own alternative — Harmony, or Hongmeng in Chinese — in case it becomes unable to use Android because of a loss of access to licensed Google products and services.

Still, “it will take two to three years for Huawei to develop its own software” to a level comparable to Google’s, an analyst said.

“We will work on our own software,” a Huawei executive said. “But we would prefer to keep using Google software if we can.”

With the Trump administration taking a hard line on Huawei, the company’s crisis appears far from over.

Huawei faces a “live-or-die moment,” founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei said in a company memo on Aug. 20.


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