Huawei’s next generation of flagship P-series smartphones will launch in South Africa this year.
Speaking in an interview with MyBroadband, Huawei South Africa CBG vice president Likun Zhao and Huawei South Africa CTO Akhram Mohamed confirmed that the upcoming devices would roll out to the local market.
“The next flagship devices are coming to South Africa,” Zhao said. “The only difference will be that the new flagships will launch in South Africa without Google Mobile Services (GMS) and with Huawei Mobile Services (HMS) instead.”
Zhao said that Huawei reached the number one position in the South African smartphone market just before the implementation of the US Entity List, which subsequently set the company’s progression back.
“We hope we can spend two years to come back to number one smartphone market share in South Africa,” he said.
Due to the Huawei being barred from implementing Google services on their devices, they have created their own platform to run on Android named Huawei Mobile Services.
What is HMS?
HMS is not a separate operating system, nor is it an implementation of Harmony OS – Huawei’s own operating system. It is simply a replacement for Google Mobile Services, which runs natively on Android devices and enables certain features and services.
“Many people are thinking that basic services are not going to be functional – that’s not true,” Mohamed said.
Users will still be able to access services such as Gmail, YouTube, Chrome, Google Search, and more – just not through the pre-loaded apps and native integration which they have become used to on previous Huawei devices.
Subsequently, Huawei’s new devices will still feature the same interface and operating system as previous-generation devices – they will just offer a different experience on a platform level.
“The menus, settings, etc., will all look and feel the same,” Mohamed said. “Over and above that, HMS is the replacement of core services for GMS. A consumer does not engage on core services level, they engage on an app level.”
The biggest change consumers will notice is that they will not be asked to log in to their Google account on startup. Instead, they will log in to their Huawei account, which will provide a similar underlying layer of functionality across the device.
As many South African users already have Huawei accounts, this should not be a jarring migration for consumers, and it will be aided by comprehensive support and transparency from Huawei, Zhao said.
Apps and testing
Zhao told MyBroadband that in the third quarter of 2019, Huawei thought the development of an HMS ecosystem and the release of devices without GMS would be a big challenge to overcome.
“From the last quarter of 2019, however, our R&D team conducted a lot of tests and we are now confident,” he said.
“For example, WhatsApp has maybe 112 functions. We tested every one based on HMS.”
“99% of functions passed when running on Android with HMS, with only the function to automatically back up data to Google Drive being an issue.”
After each issue was flagged, Huawei began to build solutions for these problems. It has conducted these tests on the top 3,000 applications in the world as well as the top 100 applications in South Africa.
Apps such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter should work perfectly, with only features that require Google account integration not being supported. Additionally, as the operating system is still Android, APKs which do not have deep Google integration will work.
Applications will be available to download from Huawei AppGallery, which will replace the Play Store most users will be familiar with.
This store functions almost identically, however, and Huawei is actively working on migrating applications over to its ecosystem at a rapid rate.
“Huawei’s plan is beyond just apps and HMS itself, it is about new experiences,” Mohamed said.
“Yes, we want to give the basic services, and we already have the capability to do that – but we are creating something completely new and beautiful for consumers.”
Huawei will also offer extended and widespread support for customers to aid them in adapting to its new Android experience.
*Please note that the headline image is a render of the Huawei Mate 30 Pro, not the upcoming P40.