Understanding Huawei Mobile Services and how it will work on future smartphones

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By now most South Africans are well aware of the ongoing battle between the United States and Huawei, which resulted in Google Mobile Services (GMS) being pulled from newer smartphones in 2019. Most notably it resulted in the delayed launch of the Mate 30 Pro, with no word yet on whether the device will ever land in South Africa.

As both parties show no signs of reaching a resolution at this stage, it has resulted in Huawei looking at other ways to deliver mobile services to its customers. When we spoke to the firm early last year, they referred to having a plan B in place. We now know said plan B is Huawei Mobile Services (HMS), which the firm is developing as a platform to replace Google’s variant.

To find out more about HMS, as well as what Huawei’s plans are for the rest of 2020, we recently attended a media roundtable where local CTO Akhram Mohamed and VP for the region Zhao Likun shed more light on the platform.

Times have changed

2020 marks a new journey for Huawei. It’s the first time the company will play the role of ecosystem provider, explained the VP. He also noted that this presents a big challenge for Huawei, as well as a big opportunity. Speaking about the process that Huawei will look to follow, he equated it to that of Apple, where the company will look to have a greater control in terms of its mobile ecosystem.

This is where HMS comes in. Over the past few months Huawei has been working frantically to build out this platform to be ready for its new flagship devices in 2020, which Mohamed confirmed will be heading to South Africa this year.

Here the firm aims to build HMS to address three key consumer pain points – security, convenience and localisation. We’ve already seen the latter begin to take shape, with Huawei investing heavily into growing a local developer ecosystem to create applications that assist with very specific South African issues.

Along with working on the developer end of things, Huawei is also investing heavily on the consumer, retail and after-sales element for HMS. This means an increased presence at local retailers across the country to better inform consumers as to what is and is not possible on HMS.

Speaking of which, Huawei is developing HMS to deliver as seamless a mobile operating system as possible. Android will still form the backbone of HMS, and Mohamed was careful to stress that the platform is not a new OS. It will also not leverage off of the firm’s HarmonyOS either, which is designed with IoT devices in mind.

A few workarounds

Instead HMS will aim to deliver access to the applications and other mobile solutions that consumers expect of a modern smartphone. This has forced Huawei to do a lot of testing, especially with the most popular apps on the market, and in particular the applications which are seen as crucial.

Showing us examples, apps like Facebook and WhatsApp work in the high 90 percents with HMS, with one of two instances of failure. These are usually limited to Google-specific issues, such as being able to sign into an account using your Google details.

The firm also showed us that many core apps and functionality will still work with HMS. While there will not be a specific Gmail app for HMS, your Gmail account can still be linked to the native Huawei mail client. There are also some workarounds, with Google Maps replaced with Waze, which is actually a more popular mapping application locally the firm notes. YouTube is a little trickier, but also works, with it available in either in-browser or via third-party solutions.

When you load the Huawei App Gallery moving forward, which will serve as the Google Play Store for all intents and purposes, users will have a few different ways of downloading popular applications, such as official APK links.

Speaking of links, in order to maintain a high level of security, Huawei says it will scan any applications prior to downloading for risk. From there users will be prompted to proceed or cancel the download. Added to this is a diagnostic tool on-device which will provide real-time scans for virus or other potentially harmful software.

The new normal?

We’re yet to experience Huawei Mobile Services in full on a review device, but the wait for that should not be long. In the interim it looks as if the firm is trying everything in its power to ensure a seamless smartphone experience in spite of Google Mobile Services not being available.

It will no doubt take some time to get accustom to, but Huawei does not look as if it will allow a lack of GMS from reaching its number one manufacturer in the smartphone market goal.

Robin-Leigh Chetty

Robin-Leigh Chetty

When he's not reviewing the latest smartphones, Robin-Leigh is writing about everything tech-related from IoT and smart cities, to 5G and cloud computing. He's also a keen photographer and dabbles in console games.