It’s the time of year where I would usually be waxing rhapsodic about the latest Huawei Mate series. But a lot has changed in the last year and a half. I didn’t expect the Huawei Mate 40 Pro to even come to Australia — especially after the last few releases of stunning, but throttled phones. But it is… and still costs $2,000.
In Australia Huawei has gone from arguably having the best phone cameras in market to, well, still having the best phone cameras in market. But because of the U.S. trade ban, Huawei’s undeniably beefy hardware has become largely inconsequential for the majority of buyers.
A quick and overly simplified Huawei modern history lesson
In 2019 President Donald Trump declared a trade ban between Huawei and U.S. companies. This meant that moving forward, these companies would not be able to work with or service Huawei and its products.
This came at a time when Huawei was really beginning to make a name for itself in Western markets. Brand recognition was picking up, its phone were outshining the competition and telcos were marketing them alongside other flagship brands. It was a shame to see it happen, truly.
There was some slight reprieve in that these companies could still service existing Huawei products. In other words, phones and laptops that were already on the market would still receive software updates and even some hardware. But future devices? Not so much.
And we saw this with last year’s Huawei Mate 30 Pro. From an app perspective, it was severely limited.
And things haven’t gotten much better for Huawei in the West since. In the last few months the company stated that it may not be able to make its Kirin chipsets anymore as it is running low on processor chips. While it is currently lobbying against this, at the present time Qualcomm will not be allowed to provide more due to the sanctions.
No Google for you
The biggest and most practical example of why this is all an issue is Google services. The Mate 30 Pro (and every Huawei device since), could not run proper versions of Android OS. They also couldn’t access the Google Play store or utilise Google apps.
Sure, there are ways around that, but they aren’t practical or convenient solutions for the average customer. People generally like their access to the most popular phone apps to be easy. Security updates are generally favoured, too.
Consequently, the Mate 30 Pro launch in Australia was significantly smaller than previous generations. Not only that, the company introduced an incredibly weird competition where people had to ‘win’ a chance to even buy one.
Since then we have seen two more Huawei releases in Australia — the flagship P40 Pro and the $4,000 foldable Mate Xs. They were also devoid of the Play Store and this resulted in Huawei upping the marketing on its own App Gallery alternative. It also began encouraging people to use the web versions of incompatible apps.
It’s made apps tricky
It’s worth noting that not all apps made by U.S. companies are incompatible with newer Huawei devices or the App Gallery. In fact, Whistleout has a robust post about which popular apps (including Aussie ones) do and don’t work.
Some apps have no issues at all include super popular ones like Instagram, Facebook, Messenger, Snapchat and Twitter.
But others, including a lot of streaming services, will only work through an APK mirror or a website. Huawei has tried to solve this through its Petal Search function, which essentially saves you from looking for APKs yourself. But the issue here is that any file has the potential to be malware, even though Petal Search does check for this.
Another solution Huawei began pushing earlier this year was Phone Clone, an app that copied all of your apps from one phone onto your new Huawei one. This included apps that can’t be natively downloaded on the 2020 Huawei devices as they are only available on Google Play.
There was a lot of Instagram posts from influencers about phone clone floating around at the time.
But the issue with Phone Clone is that once the apps are moved over in this manner they don’t receive updates automatically. And this makes sense, the clue is in the name. The app simply clones the version you had on the original phone.
To get an app update you need to download it on the original phone and then clone it to the Huawei device again. You need to do this for every individual app that can’t get updates automatically on the Huawei device.
It’s unlikely that all customers, or influencers, would realise this. And that’s a problem because apps that aren’t updated can be a security risk as they often fix things like security vulnerabilities.
Huawei Mate 40 Pro
Considering how difficult the U.S. trade ban has made things for Huawei (and consumers) I am genuinely surprised the company is releasing yet another phone here.
There is no doubt that the Mate 40 Pro is a gorgeous beast. Based on Huawei’s track record, and the spec sheet, I know it’s photographic capabilities will be breathtaking. After all, it is sporting 50MP wide, 20MO ultra-wide and 12MP telephoto lenses at the rear. And I’m sure these are boosted further with incredible software.
But I still remain shocked.
Part of this is also due to activity in market over the last few months. Back in August Huawei dissolved its decade-long major sponsorship of the Canberra Raiders.
It’s also understood that the company will axe more jobs in Australia by next year. While the trade ban may have something to do with this, Huawei has also cited Australia banning Huawei technology from its 5G network as a reason.
“In simple terms the 5G ban on Huawei has cost us 1000 high-tech and high-wage jobs from the economy. We have gone from 1200 staff to fewer than 200 and by next year it will be lower still,” Huawei’s Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, Jeremy Mitchell, told the AFR in September.
“From a revenue point of view we have gone from annual revenues of above $750 million – that could easily have gone to $1 billion with 5G – to a situation where in the next few years revenues will be below $200 million.”
With all of this in mind, I can’t see the logic behind the Mate 40 Pro release, despite my love of Huawei devices. It’s a neutered phone with a $1,999 price tag that will only be sold at Huawei’s own stores in Chatswood and World Square, Sydney.
Even for enthusiasts or people who don’t care about Google services, it’s a stretch.
With every release of these limited devices I feel like we’re watching Huawei gasp desperately for air in a sea of political bullshit. I hope these sanctions get abolished and we see a return of these phones at full strength.
But for now, it seems like any potential life raft is floating further and further away.
This post was originally published on October 23.