There was a strange atmosphere in Barcelona this February. There were few signs of the Mobile World Congress, canceled over fears related to the coronavirus outbreak. But for Huawei and Honor, the show simply went on. The parent and sister companies showed this year just how far they are willing to go out on their own.
The world's largest mobile trade fair started to fall apart in the first week of February when manufacturers such as LG and ZTE canceled their plans to attend the MWC this year. As other OEMs followed, and the show was eventually officially canceled by the organizers, The GSMA, on February 12, two big names were missing from the list of dropouts - Huawei and Honor. The Shenzhen tech giant is no stranger to being the outcast, of course, but as I attended both shows in Spain this year I got the sense that the two connected companies are growing increasingly comfortable and confident in going their own way.
I should explain at this point that it wasn't exactly business as usual for Huawei and Honor this year. Yes, both held press conferences, launched new products and invited media to come and go hands-on with their new tech goodies, but it was far from the scale of what was originally planned. Both events in Spain were pre-recorded 'live streams' dubbed 'virtual launch conferences'. These were also beamed out to several simultaneous events in cities across Europe, such as the Berlin event my colleagues went to.
And yet still, there was a feeling of defiance to all of this. Huawei and Honor appear to be getting used to being the black sheep of the mobile tech world. I get the feeling that the message in 2020 is shaping up to be something like: we don't need the GSMA to hold our MWC press conferences in Barcelona, and we don't need American companies and Google apps and services to sell smartphones.
The Huawei ecosystem continues to grow
Huawei and Honor clearly have two solutions to their United States ban/Google problem. The first is a short term fix as was evident in Barcelona at the launch of the Honor 9X Pro. By refreshing already-certified smartphones, the companies can circumvent the ban and leave the door open for Android, Google apps and the Play Store. See also, the Huawei P30 Lite New Edition. How long this approach can survive, marketing-wise, is up for debate. The Honor 9 came out in 2017, and the Honor 9X in October 2019, which itself was already a rebranded Huawei P Smart. How many interactions can Honor and Huawei squeeze out of currently certified models and still make them feel new? That's where the second part of the plan comes in.
The phase two solution is more long term, and both companies spoke confidently and positively about the plan in Barcelona this week. I'm talking about the AppGallery that serves both Huawei and Honor smartphones. AppGallery continues to grow and the partnerships are flooding in. We've already written about the deal with TomTom, and Huawei announced a partnership with News UK, owners of The Sun and The Times Newspapers and talkSport radio in Britain, at the event this week.
Huawei is still trying to convince the world that its Android AppGallery store can compete with Google Play Store and Apple's App Store. If the highlight is partnering with the publishers of The Sun then that's not exactly convincing 🤦♂️ pic.twitter.com/NCZ8ViSUqB— Tom Warren (@tomwarren) February 24, 2020
Both companies were proud to talk about being the third biggest app store worldwide, kind of ignoring the fact that the top two have an almost duopoly over the app market outside of China. To start taking more of that market share, Huawei is trying to make it easy and profitable as possible for developers to bring their apps to App Gallery. With HMS Core, Huawei wants to add a third development line to major app makers with the goal of "giving consumers more choice".
Huawei boss Richard Yu said on stage: "We believe technology should be open and available to everyone." It's a sentiment that was reinforced later in the evening when Honor took to the stage. And it's hard to disagree. Choice is good for consumers, and I wish all the luck in the world to Huawei and its AppGallery competitor, I am just not convinced they can pull it off in Europe and North America... yet!
One thing is clear after coming away from the canceled Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this year, though - Huawei and Honor are not afraid to go out on their own and fight in markets outside of their native country. They are not afraid of Google, of Trump, or of negative press surrounding them. And as they say around here, that takes big cojones!