As is the fashion this week, Huawei converted its MWC press conference into a ‘virtual’ one and unveiled a phone that it’s hard to imagine anyone buying.
The Huawei Mate Xs is an evolution of the Mate X, the launch of which last year was muted to the point of being apologetic. Like its predecessor it’s a foldy phone that, somewhat counterintuitively, has its screen on the outside of the hinge. It’s also slightly asymmetrical, with a 6.6-inch main screen and a 6.38-inch secondary one that combine to form an 8-inch screen thanks to the magic of trigonometry.
As you would expect Huawei is ascribing all manner of bells and whistles to its new shiny thing. They include its most advanced chip, the octa-core Kirin 990 5G, a super-duper camera and even a specially designed cooling system called Flying Fish that has microscopic crevices and everything.
There’s just one problem, well two actually. The biggest problem is that it runs on Huawei’s in-house operating system: EMUI 10, which is derived from the Android kernel, but isn’t full-fat Android and isn’t supported by Google. That means it doesn’t run proper Google apps, including the play store itself, which is where you get all the others.
EMUI may well be a fine OS in its own right but, to paraphrase Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, it’s deficient in the Play Store division to the tune of one. Even if the apps Huawei has encouraged its own ecosystem to develop are comparable to Google ones, why would anyone choose to take such a leap into the unknown when there are plenty of other vendors that can offer excellent phones with the full Android experience?
There is a small market for simple phones with stripped-down Oss in some developing economies, but this phone is very much at the other end of that spectrum. In fact Huawei wants us to shell out no less than £2,299 for this substandard app experience. Even if the Mate Xs folded into an origami swan, that price would be hard to justify.
Apparently in anticipation of this launch Google published an Android support document entitled Answering your questions on Huawei devices and Google services. “Due to government restrictions, Google’s apps and services are not available for preload or sideload on new Huawei devices,” it explains, warning users away from trying other means of getting Google apps on their Huawei phones. The usual security reasons are given.
This feels like a symbolic launch. Huawei can’t be expecting more than a handful of people to drop over 2k on a compromised phone, so this seems to be a statement of defiance. Huawei is saying it’s business as usual and it’s not going to let its persecution at the hands of the US government cramp its style. We respect Huawei’s spirit in that respect, while at the same time calling into question its judgment in doing so in such an expensive and futile way.