Huawei has launched its Mate 30 and Mate 30 Pro, signalling the beginning of a new era in smartphones – and not just because they are the most advanced 5G phones yet.
This is also the first phone affected by the US-China trade war, a major smartphone which does not have access to Google apps. That has sharpened Huawei's already strong record of innovation; it is exploring new paths which could see big changes in the global smartphone market.
Google outlined earlier this year that, under US restrictions on trade with China, Huawei would not be able to host Google services. While the famed search engine will be intact, there will be no Google Maps, Gmail, YouTube and no Google Play Store usually available to users when they take a Mat 30 phone out of its box; Play Store also accesses apps like SnapChat, Spotify, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix and more.
So why buy a phone, launched yesterday in front of hundreds of journalists from around the world, which doesn't have automatic access to these popular functions?
There are three reasons, not even counting the fact 5G is nearly with us, with Vodafone New Zealand rolling out its 5G service in December. That will eventually bring vastly increased smartphone speed and functionality with advances like augmented reality, virtual reality, rapid and extremely sharp streaming, multi-player gaming with no lag, high definition and more.
First, new phones are needed to access 5G and Huawei is demonstrating it is moving ahead – even after the American ban— with the world's first second-generation 5G phone, boasting more grunt and future-capable features and performance.
Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei's Consumer Business Group, said: "The era of 5G is an opportunity to re-think smartphone technology and the Huawei Mate 30 series is the ultimate expression of what's possible. It's the best for global 5G connectivity."
Yu showed a 5G speed test where the Mate 30 Pro was 50 per cent faster than Samsung's competing Note 10 5G phone. He also used graphics showing the Mate 30 downloading an HD movie 80 per cent faster than a 4G phone.
Huawei says it still prefers to work with Google and the Android operating system though the loss of Google services makes no difference to the millions of Chinese consumers who regularly snap up Huawei smartphones but who have little or no access to Google Play Store anyway because of Chinese internet restrictions.
So – second reason – Huawei is developing its own operating system internationally. Called Harmony OS, it is not yet ready to power a global smartphone ecosystem. It will initially only power devices like smart TVs, smart screens, smart watches, in-vehicle systems and smart speakers.
But it is a platform which, in time, will allow developers to build the apps which lace together the complex developer ecosystem vital for smartphones. In other words, Huawei – second largest smartphone maker in the world – has taken the first steps towards creating an alternative platform to Android.
They are devoting US$1 billion in incentives for developers to help build that ecosystem. Android is open source technology – meaning anyone can use it – but Huawei is developing Harmony just in case that too is denied.
Third, there is speculation the Mate 30 and Mate 30 Pro can make use of a process known as "side loading" – the ability for the user to download apps missing because of the loss of Google services.
With a relatively simple (if previously little known) process, phone owners can go to APK sites (Android Package Kit file format, as used by Google's system). They can download the desired apps, thus sidestepping the ban created by the trade war.
However, it's an extra step for users and an obvious hurdle. Previously, when the phone came out of the box, users simply connected to the desired apps. Now they have to find a safe site to ensure downloads are secure and master a new process.
Time will also tell if apps developers feel the impact of Huawei being banned from Google services - as millions will suddenly not be using their apps. If that impact is big enough, it could see their apps or replacements available on Huawei's Harmony system.
For now, however, the big challenge facing the Mate 30 and Mate 30 Pro is how the average user will cope with this extra process.
The phone itself has been designed to attract, with eye-catching colours and a big screen with a sleek body which Yu says makes it feel compact. It is available in 4G and 5G versions, which Apple's new iPhone 11 isn't.
The striking "horizon" design, industry-leading cameras, 3D face recognition and a powerful new chip are all features but, like its close cousin, the P30 series, the Mate 30's power and impressive camera, zoom, low light, artificial intelligence and video capability are the standouts.
Yu ran a video showing off the super slo-mo feature where the seemingly invisible wings of a hovering hummingbird were slowed down until clearly visible on the downbeat and upbeat.