When I was but a youngster, my father was a mechanic for one of the local stock car drivers. At the risk of showing my age, I can remember that somehow local promoters convinced Richard Petty to race at the little local track. In the weeks before that day, I can remember those local drivers saying how they knew this track and there was no way Petty was going to win in their house.
Come the night of the race, Petty won by such a large margin that his crew had almost finished loading their gear into the truck before the second-place driver finally crossed the finish line.
I'm not a big NASCAR fan and this has nothing to do with smartphones, but it's exactly what I thought about when I heard Huawei boasting about it having the third-largest app store in the world for phones. Number three is so far behind that it's a metric that works better if you never mention it. Just like those local drivers never mentioned losing to Richard Petty.
I'm not trying to sound like I'm rooting for Huawei to fail. I think the company makes great smartphones, and the reasons why it's in hot water with the U.S. government aren't about handsets, so punishing the handset division seems stupid. If there are valid concerns over Huawei's 5G equipment or if the U.S. doesn't want a Chinese company to gain a huge advantage when it comes to cellular infrastructure, then address those instead.
What does matter is that Google can't let Huawei use its stuff, so Huawei has to make its own stuff. Which isn't really a bad thing, because someone has to find the magic combo that can break Google's and Apple's tight grip on the smartphone app ecosystem. Huawei has great hardware and if it can find a way to build services people actually want to use, it could do that. Except for that pesky Entity List that won't let developers who want to do business in the U.S. work with the company, that is.
All of this is why Huawei talking about how great its app store is and how fast it is growing means almost nothing. It may be great — and if you're a Chinese customer I have a feeling it is filled with the apps you love — and it surely is growing, but there is a very well-defined endgame when it comes to selling phones in the west.
Huawei can see that proverbial stop sign, and companies like Facebook and Twitter sitting on the other side of it, wishing they could do business with the Chinese giant, but it also knows it has to stop when it reaches that line. Enticing developers and preloading phones with popular apps isn't a solution because the most popular apps people in the U.S., or Canada, or Germany, or the U.K., etc. are from developers who also want to do business in the good old U.S.A. and the risk is not worth the reward. Huawei has deals with Amazon, Microsoft, Snapchat, TikTok and Epic Games, Wattpad and others, but it's not clear whether by being on the AppGallery those companies are violating any rules.
This is bad for everyone involved. Developers aren't free to work with a company willing to pay them, consumers are unable to purchase some of the best phones on the market, and engineers who build phones are lumped in with alleged thieves and spies that have been accused without any tangible proof.
Sometimes, every choice sucks. But boasting that you only have 1.6 billion fewer monthly users in your store than Google has in its own is not a good look. Here's hoping things can change before Huawei becomes yet another Chinese phone maker that western consumers don't care about.
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