Huawei exec said it won’t offer Google apps even if the U.S. ban is lifted

The company’s PR team has since walked back the outrageous comments.

Dominic Lipinski - PA Images/PA Images/Getty Images

Huawei’s chief in Austria apparently told a reporter that the Chinese smartphone maker wouldn’t resume offering Google apps on its phones even if the U.S. trade ban is lifted. The move would likely leave the company’s phones undesirable outside China where Google’s suite of services from Search to YouTube dominate the web.

In a follow up statement to the site, a Huawei spokesperson said that Google services are their first choice, “but if we are not able to continue to use it, we have the ability to develop our own.”

The people want their YouTube videos — Google shut down its Chinese search engine in 2010 over censorship issues and doesn’t offer any of its other services there, so Huawei has no trouble selling its smartphones in its home country using local services. But in Europe and other regions where Huawei has an active smartphone business, the recent lack of Google apps has been a big problem for the company. Huawei’s CEO Richard Yu has said in statements that the company would reinstate Google services “over one night” if the ban were lifted.

Right now U.S. companies can only conduct business with Huawei under special approval. Huawei has been a target over concerns of spying and unfair subsidies by the Chinese government.

It's been a difficult year — Market intelligence firm IDC released a new smartphone market share report showing that Huawei was pummelled in 2019. It shipped 56.2 million smartphones in the final three months of 2019, down from 60.5 million units during the same time a year ago.

"Huawei's performance continued to be strong in China, but while it has been diligently building up a presence as a top tier smartphone player in Western Europe, that's where shipments saw the biggest hit," said Melissa Chau, associate research director with IDC's Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers.

Companies are political punching bags now — The reporter who was present at the time the comments were made said on Twitter that Huawei was very clear about its plans to abandon Google apps, despite the contrasting statement from its PR team.

Either way, it’s not terribly surprising that Huawei might want to end its reliance on an American firm like Google. We’re seeing now that politicians across the world are using national corporations as proxies to fight against other countries, and Huawei is practically the crown jewel of China. But it doesn’t have any of its own services popular outside China, so it’s hard to see in the near term that they have much leverage.

The Huawei P40 and P40 Pro are rumored to be launching in March of this year at an event in Paris. If they have to use Huawei Mobile Services, as its Google Play alternative is called, expect sales in Europe to decline even further.