The recently launched Huawei Mate 30 and Mate Pro 30 boast a lot of upgraded hardware including extra cameras and edge to edge, bezel-free screens, but they come with a huge tradeoff: Due to the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China and the associated Commerce Department blacklisting of Huawei on national security grounds, Huawei was forced to switch to Android open source and can’t ship them with Google apps and services preinstalled. That means no Play Store, leaving buyers restricted to its in-house alternative Huawei Mobile Services (HMS) for apps.
Huawei has come up with somewhat of a workaround, though: Users will be able to unlock the Mate 30 series’ bootlocker, reversing a Huawei decision from May 2018 to remove that functionality for its phones. The company confirmed this change with AnandTech and Android Authority.
“We limited [bootloader unlocking] because we wanted to guarantee more security for consumers,” Huawei consumer business group CEO Richard Yu told Android Authority in a statement. “But this time we will leave more freedom for the consumers so they can do more customization by themselves. So we are planning to let consumers do that.”
Though this is not an ideal situation for either Huawei or its customers, unlocking the devices will make it much easier to install Google Play Services on them and restore something resembling a full experience. According to Android Authority, it’s not entirely clear how this process will work and to what degree Huawei provide support for unlocking:
Unfortunately, Richard didn’t elaborate on how this process will work. Will the Mate 30 series come with an unlocked bootloader right out of the box? Will users need to figure out how to unlock the bootloader themselves and then take to XDA Developers‘ forums to spread the word? Could Huawei post explicit instructions online on how to unlock the Huawei Mate 30 Pro bootloader to make things simple? The company was mum on any of these details.
Android Authority noted that because unlocking a bootloader and sideloading apps may be beyond the technical abilities of the average user, it’s thus unclear whether this feature will matter to more than a handful of Huawei enthusiasts or offset any impact on Mate 30 series sales. According to Anandtech, with Huawei making significant investments into HMS (such as a $1 billion developer fund and committing to take only half of the 30 percent cut of app revenue Google does), Google may ultimately end up hurting more in the long run than its Chinese competition.
Huawei has set an ambitious target of 20 million Mate 30 series phones sold, Android Authority reported; its successful P30 and Mate 20 series had access to the Google ecosystem and it is hard to predict whether the Mate 30 series will sell as well without it. The Commerce Department has repeatedly extended a grace period meant to allow Huawei and U.S. businesses an easier transition before the blacklisting takes full effect, but it is relatively clear that reprieve will run out soon (and the delays only apply to old products, not new ones, including software updates). Yu told Anandtech that Huawei would “immediately” restore access to Google services and updates if sanctions on the firm are lifted.
“Huawei has already developed a strong brand in Europe and I’m sure there will be a market for any new products given Huawei’s good track record in slick design and leading edge features such as multiple cameras with great zoom capability,” CCS Insight research chief Ben Wood told the Guardian. “However, not having Google services will mean it’s a huge challenge for customers. There is also a risk consumers will buy a new Huawei and then find it does not offer everything they expected and will decide to return.”