22 January 2020
Google's move turned a much sought-after smartphone into an inferior brand overnight. Photo: Reuters
Google's move turned a much sought-after smartphone into an inferior brand overnight. Photo: Reuters

The Huawei I know

Three weeks ago, I bought a new Huawei phone because I lost my iPhone. I really wanted to try out Huawei, which I had heard a lot of nice things about.

I was happy with it until Monday, when I read that Google will no longer be available for its new models.

This development – in my mind, at least – has turned my favorite handset into an inferior brand overnight.

And the sad part of it is that Huawei won’t give me a refund if I return my phone. They’ll say I’ll still be able to access Gmail, YouTube and other Google apps or use the Chrome browser, as well as get updates for those apps.

Yeah, perhaps I shouldn’t be upset by the Google ban. Its impact on me will be very limited because I change phones every 18 months like any average Hongkonger.

The big question for those living outside mainland China is: who will buy the latest Huawei models? Why would they want to buy a new phone that can’t access Google apps?

If Huawei comes out with its own operating system, will that be good news for its overseas fans?

Hongmeng – the name of the OS that it is reportedly developing and is said to be based on the Linux system – is definitely different from the Android platform, and never the twain shall meet. 

It is sad to see Huawei, which somehow symbolizes the future of China, suffering probably the worst crisis in its existence.

To think that this Chinese company has risen so fast out of the sheer drive and competence of its founder and staff to become the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker and the No. 2 smartphone brand, surpassing Apple’s iPhone and close to overtaking Samsung.

As they say, a tall tree catches much wind.

I’m really sorry this has to happen. Huawei’s top-of-the-line smartphone is arguably better than the best of iPhone but 30 percent cheaper.

Huawei has seen it coming, though. Since the trade war between the United States and China broke out, it must have known that it is in Washington’s crosshairs.

There’s the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer and daughter of founder Ren Zhengfei, in Canada in December at the request of the United States over alleged violations related to US sanctions against Iran.

Then there’s Washington’s global campaign to ban Huawei from 5G mobile services, and its move to place the company on its blacklist, on the premise that it will be used by China to spy on other countries.

But I’m not really convinced that Huawei is that the dark, sinister monster that US President Donald Trump is portraying it.

In my line of work, I’ve had at least two encounters with the company.

A few years ago, I was asked to visit Huawei’s headquarters in Shenzhen for an easy assignment. Some Huawei guys requested me to carry a couple of new handsets that were used for an overseas launch back to HQ.

“Sure,” I said. Unfortunately, we were stopped by customs officers at the Shenzhen border, thinking that we were trying to smuggle the handsets to the mainland. You see, those phones were the overseas version that ran on Android and could upload Google apps – the type that commanded a premium across the border.

We had thought Huawei, being one of the country’s anchor enterprises in its technology drive along with Tencent, BYD and DJI, would get some special privileges, but not in our case.

Even after explaining the matter to the officers, they still insisted that we pay the hefty duties. So we decided to just leave the units at the border, and upon our return, took them back to Hong Kong.

Two months ago, I accidentally became a part of Huawei’s public relations project, with chairman Ren going out of his way to grant interviews to international media to explain his company’s side in the tussle with US authorities.

One media outlet flew eight people to Shenzhen, where they stayed for a week. They conducted a comprehensive series of interviews with the head honcho himself, which went along fine except they later realized that they would need an English voice-over for chairman Ren.

So I ended up being the English voice of the Huawei big boss. Some asked him about 5G, to which the chairman replied: “5G? I don’t even know what G is.”

Anyway, that’s what he ended up saying in the English-language version of the interview.

With the entire world seemingly ganging up on the company, it’s probably just as well that Huawei play dumb and keep a low-profile until the storm passes.

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EJ Insight writer