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Huawei on the defensive over app store at Mate Xs launch

Image credit: Huawei

The Shenzhen-based electronics giant has launched a range of 5G products, including a new folding smartphone equipped with its rapidly growing App Gallery.

The launch was overshadowed by a pair of challenges for Huawei: its planned launch at Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2020 was replaced with a more modest “virtual” launch, after the Barcelona trade show was cancelled amid concerns of coronavirus transmission, and the company’s blacklisting by Donald Trump – restricting its work with US partners – has forced it onto the defensive over the absence of Google apps on its phones.

At the virtual launch, Huawei consumer business group CEO Richard Yu presented a set of new 5G devices, including Huawei’s first folding phone to hit the global market.

The Mate Xs is the successor to the outward-folding Mate X, which has not been released outside China and now appears extremely unlikely to get an international release.

The luxurious Mate Xs has much in common with its predecessor: when folded, it resembles a standard 6.6” smartphone with a panel to the left of the screen housing a vertical quad camera array and a secondary (6.38”) screen on its back. It folds out into an almost completely flat 8” tablet-like device, which appears well-suited to reading books, performing work tasks and playing games.

Huawei mate XS demo

E&T Magazine

Image credit: E&T editorial staff

The Mate Xs runs Huawei’s Android 10-based EMUI 10, with Huawei’s Kirin 990 5G chipset and support for eight 5G frequency bands.

According to Yu, the double-layer screen – manufactured by adhering two layers of polyimide with a totally clear adhesive – is 80 per cent stronger than a single layer and considerably more expensive than gold.

Its new “falcon wing” hinge design features 100 interlocking parts, including some made from zirconium-based liquid metal. Screen fragility – particularly around the hinge mechanism – has emerged as the most serious challenge for designers of folding handsets. Since Samsung’s Galaxy Fold launch was delayed last year by widespread reports of screens breaking after just hours or days or use, manufacturers have repeatedly emphasised the durability of their smartphone’s folding screens.

The Mate Xs will be sold at £2,299/€2,499 in global markets from March this year.

Yu also presented a tablet with 90 per cent screen-to-body ratio, the MatePad Pro 5G, the latest MateBook laptop models, and a new Wi-Fi 6+ router supporting super-fast speeds at extra frequency bands (600Mbps at 2.4GHz and 2400Mbps at 160MHz).

Notably, Huawei also used the event to aggressively promote the Huawei App Gallery, its own direct competitor to Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store. Huawei’s lack of access to Google apps such as YouTube, Gmail and Google Maps seriously impacted the launch of its flagship Mate 30 range in autumn 2019, with pundits expressing regret that a phone with such high specs as the Mate 30 Pro seemed impractical due to its lack of Google apps.

In the months since, Huawei has invested vast quantities of cash to get developers around the world on board with its Huawei Mobile Services (HMS) ecosystem. Although the App Gallery has existed since 2011, it remained largely ignored by Huawei users outside China for years, who until recently had the option to use the Google Play Store instead.

Yu said: “Moving forward, we will continue expanding our app ecosystem in the Huawei AppGallery with hopes to not only create a secure and reliable platform, but also to provide consumers with more choice. The continued success of this thriving ecosystem will remain one of our highest priorities.”

Demonstrations following the virtual launch showed that apps such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, LinkedIn, Telegram, Amazon, iPlayer, and BBC News are all available in the App Gallery, while Google services such as YouTube can still be used via a browser. According to Huawei, if users miss an app, they can submit a request and get a notification if it is later added to the App Gallery.

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