Today was supposed to be the local launch of the Huawei P40 series. This virtual launch is the company’s debutant ball for its new offering, free from Google services. Huawei wants you to spend money on a premium Android phone that can’t save your albums to Google Photos, lacks the official YouTube app, can’t sync with Google Docs, doesn’t have Google Maps and, therefore, will also not work with the Uber app (Uber relies on Google Maps the same way the in-app Twitter browser is just your phone’s browser with a dress on).
And what do you get in return for adjusting your life and workflow to accommodate your shiny new smartphone? Nothing remarkable, really. It’s not as if the phone is cheap or the hardware is the absolute best on the planet, or the camera takes the best pictures on a phone, ever.
To be fair, though, Huawei spent a lot of money to get developers to build apps for its App Gallery and you should find Discovery, d6 Communicator and all the banking apps there. But I’ve seen this before on Windows Phone and it didn’t end well.
”But what about that ecosystem they brag about? That’s pretty cool!”
Oh, you mean the blatant Apple clones that have none of the refinement and polish of the Cupertino company’s offerings? For one, the software only works well if you also have a Huawei laptop or, at least, your close friends have Huawei phones too.
What you really should be asking is: if Apple priced its accessory products at the same level – I’m taking Watch and Airpods – and had a plethora of sub-R10 000 devices on offer, would Huawei still be an enticing brand?
It’s the same way I measure Spotify. Would that streaming service be as successful as it is if it didn’t have a free tier? You may not necessarily use the ad-supported tier, but a large portion of its audience does. And then it’s pure network effect from there on out, no matter how crap the app UX is.
The P40 family exists in a different space, though. One where the marketing budgets are far higher and the brand ambassadors are more interested in securing the bag than driving their audience to a good investment.
It’s a problem when the first excited mentions of brand partnerships makes no sincere remarks about the product experience.
At least Oprah was honest when she walked out onto the Apple stage and said she wanted to be in a billion pockets. There’s a hint of ambition to enrich lives and not just material gain.
I really don’t want to pick on Mrs Jones because she really puts effort into her hosting gigs – I’ve been in a shuttle to a device launch event with a former brand ambassador/host who was only then switching the phone on for the first time.
People gotta make their paper, but ultimately the consumer needs to be more shrewd. Huawei won my heart with its peerless camera tech on the P9, Mate 9, P10 and P20. The Mate 20 Pro was about as well-rounded a phone as you could get at the time, even though that’s when Huawei started messing with the excellent stills camera recipe in order to add extra focal lengths for the sake of it.
After Mate 30 the other brands caught up. Apple finally put extra money and effort into its camera system after it built a big enough lead on processor design and Samsung finally got a handle on good software.
I spend most of my free time thinking about how technology enhances our lives. I began composing this post on my iPad, then added a few notes on my phone and am now finishing it on that phone, but docked to an external display. There’s very little interruption in my work flow as long as I have a reliable Internet connection and I can switch across device ecosystems almost at will to complete tasks.
A Huawei P40 without Google Mobile Services would punch a big hole in my workflow straight out of the box. I would be able to find workarounds like using the Uber Web app instead and downloading WhatsApp from the Amazon app store, but is the inconvenience worth it?
Is the camera good enough for me to be uncomfortable for a while? Depending on who you ask, no. Is the hardware the absolute best out there? No. The phones are also bigger than I am comfortable with using on the daily and they lack the added enhancement of a built-in S-Pen to give some purpose to me using two hands to operate it.
I’m not here for spending over R10 000 to be a beta tester for a software experiment that may be abandoned in the next hardware refresh cycle. Especially not in a world where you can pick up an iPhone experience for the same money.