Forget Google—Huawei Plans A Killer New Update To Make Millions Switch Phones

This has been a great week for Huawei. It started with the news that it had pulled a masterstroke, securing Here mapping technologies for its phones, a genuine Google Maps alternative. Then came the news that its main Chinese rival in key overseas markets, Xiaomi, was allegedly spying on its users. And finally the smartphone shipment stats for the first quarter confirmed that with its market share in China, it had outpaced Apple to hold the number-two slot, with only Samsung still to catch.

Unfortunately for Huawei, though, none of this will be enough to convince tens of millions of non-Chinese smartphone users to opt for its open-source Android phones, turning away from the familiar world of Google’s software and services. But Huawei has a plan to try to change that. And it has both Google and Apple in mind. And it’s much needed—the company needs to do something to push those millions of users to switch or upgrade to its latest smartphones, despite the loss of Google.

Huawei quickly recognized that the biggest impediment to its international position in a post-blacklist world is competing with Google’s Play Store. Its own AppGallery alternative is now the third largest app distribution platform in the world, but it is still finding its way outside China. The store is no new kid on the block—launched in China back in 2011. But its international version is just two-years old.

So, stepping back, why does Huawei think it can tip the balance in its  favour? The answer is clever, albeit highly ironic. And it is an interesting punt with no guarantee of success. In short—security, privacy and, basically, not being Google.

There’s an irony here that is impossible to overlook. Huawei was blacklisted by the U.S. government back in May 2019 over alleged national security concerns. As a consequence, the tech giant lost access to Google for its new phones, causing a major plunge in international sales. Now, its plan is to focus on Google’s security and privacy shortcomings and offer a safer, more secure alternative. You couldn’t make this up—but it’s not as odd as it sounds. Here’s why.

Huawei may be many things, but a data business it is not. Google built Android as a front-end to its globally dominant data machine. Devices, apps and browsers collect and process data, it’s a cash-generating titan. Businesses buy access to map listings, search engine prominence, store windows, raw data for processing ads and outreach. One of the primary issues for Google in losing access to new Huawei devices has been the loss of access to all those consumers. And we know that Apple, which takes a much more restrictive view on the data-monetizing of its users, has seen the value of ads within its ecosystem drop dramatically as a result.

Huawei, by contrast, sells technology: Smartphones and accessories, 5G networking equipment, enterprise infrastructure, surveillance. It can sit back and take a view on the state of the Play Store, the world’s leading app platform, and determine what could and should be done better. Security and privacy quickly come to mind.

From a security standpoint, Google’s challenge is the open nature of Android and the sheer scale of apps available to billions of users around the world. In recent months, the U.S. giant has taken step after step to improve the security screening of apps that find their way into the store, but has been famously unable to match the locked down nature of Apple’s alternative. Just this week, we have seen two reports surface into Android malware, the problem shows no signs of abating.

Google is always keen to emphasize its ongoing security programs. Again this week the company responded to one of those reports, assuring “we’re always working to improve our detection capabilities. We appreciate the work of the researchers in sharing their findings with us. We’ve since taken action against all the apps they identified.” As for the other report, the malware has not been seen in the wild and so Google takes the view that the threat remains speculative.

But security is an issue that isn’t going away. From nuisance adware to genuinely malicious risks such as the infamous Joker malware, threats continue to escape the net. As to the question is it possible to do better—Apple polices its store with much more rigour. It is not issue free by any extent, but it has proven that by taking a more locked down approach to security you can reduce the issue significantly.

And in this regard, Apple is more a Huawei role model than Google. The Chinese giant will be learning lessons from its American rival, a company the Chinese firm’s founder Ren Zhengfei has said inspired his own business and whose smart devices he and his family use themselves.

Beyond security, we have privacy. And that’s a whole different factor. We all know how much of our data is captured, collected and processed through our phones. they know who and what we know, where we go and why. They are the genuine spies in each of our pockets. This was never more evident than when the U.S. government turned to the marketing industry instead of the mobile networks for data thrown off by our phones for coronavirus population tracking.

Underpinning this privacy issue is the murky world of permissions. Whenever you install an Android app, that app requests and is almost certainly given permissions to access data and functions on your phone. There is staggering abuse of this system by app developers worldwide, some for straight revenue purposes and others for more malicious processing of our data. And while the latter will find themselves kicked from the Play Store if caught, data-based marketing is frowned on but not outlawed. Google uses AI to advise developers if their apps ask for more permissions than their peers, but there’s no enforcement behind this.

At its heart, Google developed and continues to prosper as a data and marketing machine. Its vast ecosystem has grown up around this core tenet. Cue Huawei and the question: can a Chinese company criticized for its data and software security, blacklisted by the U.S., heavily tied into the government in Beijing, do any better?

Well, maybe. Huawei wants its AppGallery to be “open and innovative,” but it also wants to “strictly” protect the security and privacy of users installing apps. How strictly the company deals with developers to resolve issues that plague the Play Store remains to be seen. But Huawei is right in saying it is not “a data company.”

So, what will Huawei do differently?

First, the company plans to verify that developers are who they say they are, with real names disclosed and checked. The company also plans a beefed up security process to do better than Google, rooting out malicious software and vulnerabilities and risks that user data might leak. This includes addressing how apps will run on a Huawei device, taking Apple’s strict approach to sandboxing. Huawei has looked at how it supplements the Android environment to develop and enforce this security layer. Again, you can assume that the company has taken its lead from Apple.

Huawei benefits from control over the hardware and software—again, just like Apple. It can determine where and how credentials are held, it can adopt its own approach to permissions and privacy, it can monitor and control what data is sent to and from a device. The company will also store data regionally, adhering to local regulations, but more importantly telling users that it won’t send data to servers in China—apt given the Xiaomi news broken on Forbes by Thomas Brewster this week.

Can this possibly work? Maybe—but it will be tough, Overcoming resistance to change in key markets as those markets battle COVID-19, and dealing with the brand damage from the blacklist and the building China backlash will be hard. That said, it’s a clever punt, pushing data privacy and security. Huawei will never criticize Google in public, but the backdrop here is to be more like Apple, to take the lack of Google within its own OS as a benefit not a setback. You can expect its marketing to tune to this message as it continues to promote its alternatives.

For Huawei, the clear message here is that if it can’t have Google, it needs to be more like Apple. Making that work will be a mountain to climb, but then Huawei has just heralded its achievements in installing a 5G base station “6,500 meters up Mount Everest.” So, mountain climbing might not be the feat we imagine.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

I am the Founder/CEO of Digital Barriers—developing advanced surveillance solutions for defence, national security and counter-terrorism. I write about the intersection of geopolitics and cybersecurity, as well as breaking security and surveillance stories. Contact me at zakd@me.com.

Source: Forget Google—Huawei Plans A Killer New Update To Make Millions Switch Phones

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Huawei Beats Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, Samsung Galaxy S10+ In New Rating

Huawei is the company you can’t write off. Sure, it has problems with the U.S. government and its latest phone, the Huawei Mate 30 Pro, is still awaiting a wide release outside China, but it still manages to achieve surprising things.

DXOMark is best known for its camera reviews, giving authoritative scores for, among other things, the photographic capabilities of smartphones.

Currently its top-ranking camera on a phone is the Huawei Mate 30 Pro which has a score of 121, never beaten and only equalled by the Xiaomi Mi CC9 Pro Premium (which, incidentally should surely have won the award for snappiest name, no?). It won this award because the overall camera score beat the nearest contender, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ 5G, handsomely.

But that’s not the only surprise win Huawei has had in recent weeks.

DXOMark also conducts audio reviews, and Huawei has gained the very top score here, too.

Today In: Innovation
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Forbes David Phelan The Huawei Mate 20 X, a huge phone with a whopping 7.2in display, most recently updated to a 5G version, has beaten every other phone tested in this way by DXOMark.

The company said that the Huawei phone was released as a multimedia powerhouse, and it praised the phone extensively, comparing it favorably to phones including the latest Apple flagship, the iPhone 11 Pro Max.

DXOMark said:

The Huawei Mate 20 X is the top scorer in our Audio tests of all the devices we’ve tested thus far, with its Overall score of 75 besting Samsung’s S10+ by ten points and the Note 10+ by 9. It is also the only Android phone we’ve tested that scored above Apple’s large-screen iPhone XS Max—although only by one point. The Mate 20 X did particularly well when playing back movies and music, achieving a substantially higher score for those use cases than any of the other phones we have tested. While still the top scorer among the Android devices we tested, its performance while gaming was less stellar, and behind both the iPhone XS Max and the iPhone 11 Pro Max.

Okay, so it’s only just better than the latest iPhone, just one point, but it pretty conclusively beats the Samsung Galaxy S10+.

So, what does this mean?

Well, for a start, it confirms that Huawei phones are increasingly well-crafted and offer genuine standouts.

But perhaps it also shows Huawei to be ahead of the curve. Audio quality is only just becoming a thing, though several phone manufacturers, such as Nokia, for instance, have been boasting of their handsets’ sound capabilities for some time.

But with bigger screens, designed to let you watch video and play games, better audio becomes increasingly important.

Huawei’s skill is that as it improves the camera, screen, battery life and innovation levels on its phones, it’s not neglecting any part of the package, recognizing audio as an aspect that needs careful attention, too.

Follow me on Instagram by clicking here: davidphelantech and Twitter: @davidphelan2009

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Follow me on Twitter.

I’ve been writing about technology for two decades and am regularly struck by how the sector swings from startling innovation to regular repetitiveness. My areas of specialty are wearable tech, cameras, home entertainment and mobile technology. Over the years I’ve written about gadgets for the Daily Telegraph, the Sunday Times, the Daily Mail, the Sun, Metro, Stuff, T3, Pocket-lint, Wareable.com and Wired. Right now most of my work away from Forbes appears in the Independent, the Evening Standard and Monocle Magazine. Parenthetically, I also work as an actor, enjoying equally the first Mission Impossible movie, a season at Shakespeare’s Globe and a stint on Hollyoaks. Follow me on Instagram: davidphelantech, or Twitter: @davidphelan2009.

Source: Huawei Beats Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, Samsung Galaxy S10+ In New Rating

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Is Huawei’s Worst Google Nightmare Coming True?

The soap opera that is Huawei’s loss of Google software and services from its new smartphones has taken twist after turn in recent weeks. We had been warned (by Google) that the new flagship Mate 30 Series would launch without full-fat Android, but we had also been promised (by Huawei’s consumer boss Richard Yu) that workarounds would be found. To cut a long story short, the device did launch without Google, workarounds were then found, but then those workarounds were taken away.

All of which kind of leaves us back where we expected to be—Huawei continues to launch great devices, those great devices don’t carry Google, most analysts expect sales outside China to take a massive hit as a consequence. But, in reality, it’s not that simple. And what has actually happened could be even worse than it seems for Huawei, with the consequences not yet fully understood.

The Mate 30 has become the focal point for this on/off Google apps story. But what happens to the Mate 30 will impact the forthcoming Mate X and anything else after that until the U.S. blacklist changes. Just ahead of the Mate 30’s September launch, Android Authority reported that Yu had told the media Huawei “might have a workaround on-hand” to recover Google functionality, that the process would be “quite easy,” that “the open-source nature of Android enables ‘a lot of possibilities’, and that third-party developers had worked on workarounds for some time, given that “Huawei is unable to provide Google Mobile Services on new products due to the ban.”

Today In: Innovation

I asked Huawei for an official statement at the time, regarding Yu’s comments, to be told that the official word from the Consumer Business Group is “we can’t comment on that.” In private, it seemed there was internal nervousness at being seen to flaunt the ban, enabling workarounds to be publicly applied to the devices.

And, sure enough, despite Huawei confirming on launch the lack of Google Mobile Services, essentially the framework to which Google apps attach, the internet was soon abuzz with videos and tutorials on the use of a Chinese app to sideload all those familiar Google apps back onto the device. Notwithstanding the security concerns in giving a Chinese language app of uncertain origin access to a phone’s core system, the workaround was widely welcomed and we seemed to be back to business as usual.

Meanwhile, reports from China, where the Mate 30 first launched, suggested the devices were flying from the shelves. Helped by a steep price cut and domestic pride in a national champion, a million devices quickly shipped and Huawei’s plan to shore up any hit to international sales with strong demand at home seemed fine.

But then, quite suddenly, everything changed.

The app that was being used to enable the after-market Google load on Mate 30s is LZPlay—available on some app stores and from LZPlay.net. On loading, it seeks permission to access hidden system settings, opening up Google “stubs” deep within Huawei’s version of the Android open-source core to enable apps and services to be installed. With some exceptions—notably Google Pay—everything seemed normal.

                                    

But then came the inevitable deep-dive into that app—what was actually happening under the phone’s covers. Cue John Wu’s Medium post. It transpired, according to Wu, that for LZPlay to work required “undocumented Huawei specific MDM APIs,” implying that the use of such APIs were “signed with a special certificate from Huawei, granted privileges nowhere to be found on standard Android systems.”

In essence, the implication was that Huawei was sanctioning or overlooking the app restoring banned Google apps and services onto Huawei devices. “Wait a minute,” Wu asked in his post, “does that mean either Google is sneaking the stubs to Huawei, or Huawei is blatantly stealing Google’s stub binaries?”

                                     

And Wu’s answer? “It is pretty obvious that Huawei is well aware of this LZPlay app, and explicitly allows its existence. The developer of this app has to somehow be aware of these undocumented APIs, sign the legal agreements, go through several stages of reviews, and eventually have the app signed by Huawei. The sole purpose of the app is to install Google Services on a non licensed device, and it sounds very sketchy to me, but I’m no lawyer so I have absolutely no idea of its legality.”

                                     

All of which has resulted in the workaround being withdrawn from the market. LZPlay is no longer available. Any installs from before it was pulled no longer work. And, more intriguingly, “devices that used LZPlay to install GMS no longer pass ‘SafetyNet Attestation,’ rendering many apps and services unusable.”

And so to the real issue for Huawei that will start to become clear when the dust settles on this on/off story. Whether Huawei was aware or unaware, whether Google was involved or uninvolved, the fact is that the addition of Google Mobile Services will now fail to pass a security and verification test on the device—unsurprising, given the device is unlicensed. And that suggests no other workaround will be forthcoming.

And that will be a major issue for the future of Huawei’s smartphone business outside China. It will also make it impossible for users inside China to deploy the Google workaround that was designed for their market—because if the Mate 30 can’t be after-market updated outside China because of the U.S. blacklist, then it cannot be after-market updated in China either. The restriction on Huawei is not geography-specific. Chinese consumers who would otherwise buy Huawei devices and then add Google, deploying VPNs to use the restricted services, will not be able to do so.

                                    

This story is moving all over the place right now—albeit it’s becoming more difficult to see significant changes without U.S. approval. What we do know is that Google has apparently slammed the backdoor to the Mate 30 shut, enforcing its lack of license, ensuring that even if the GMS stubs remain they cannot be enabled. And it’s a safe bet that those stubs may well be pulled altogether.

Huawei confirmed to me that the “latest Mate 30 series is not pre-installed with GMS, and Huawei has had no involvement with http://www.lzplay.net.” But the implications of this latest twist could be devastating. It’s too soon to get a read on what might happen next, and there are no comments from Shenzhen, but we will know soon enough.

In the meantime, anyone who had planned to buy a dazzling Mate 30 and apply the “easy workaround” is now faced with a very different set of options.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

As the Founder/CEO of Digital Barriers, a developer of disruptive AI surveillance solutions for defense, security and commercial organizations in the US, EMEA and Asia, I work with those responsible for national security, counter-terrorism and critical infrastructure protection. I have been in tech for 25 years, with the last 15 of those years in video surveillance, analytics, cybersecurity and AI. I write about the real-world challenges, opportunities and threats from technology advances that impact the defense and security sectors as well as cybersecurity more broadly. I also focus on the appropriate use of those technologies and the balance of privacy and public safety. Contact me at zakd@me.com.

Source: Is Huawei’s Worst Google Nightmare Coming True?

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Huawei Mate 30 Pro Leak Shows Stunning Design And Cool Features

Now the latest iPhones have been revealed, attention turns to Huawei. Its Mate 30 series is now the most highly-anticipated launch, for several reasons.

The unveiling takes place in Munich on Thursday, September 18, but a series of press renders have leaked, according to the ever-dependable Evan Blass.

There will be four phones in the series, the Mate 30 Lite, Mate 30 and the one we’re. concerned with here: the Huawei Mate 30 Pro. The fourth will be the Mate 30 Pro Porsche Design, which is more of a niche model.

There have already been reports of exactly what the new Pro will look like, but the new images from Blass show greater detail of what could be Huawei’s most handsome phone yet.

Today In: Innovation

Here’s what to expect at the Munich launch.

Front and rear of the Huawei Mate 30 Pro, it's claimed.

@evleaks

This is the bit we’ve seen before but the latest images look splendid. The circular bezel around the four cameras evokes a camera lens itself, so it’s a particularly satisfying piece of design.

And note that the cameras don’t seem to protrude very far at all, unlike almost every other smartphone out there apart from the Nokia 9 PureView.

The notch isn’t small – room for a second camera

The front-facing camera and other tech are sitting in a bigger cut-out than on the Huawei P30 Pro, for instance. This suggests that the new phone will have two cameras, designed to make face unlocking faster and more secure than on current Huawei phones. Perhaps secure enough to authorize payments? We’ll see, though remember the current Huawei flagships include a fingerprint sensor under the display so that’s likely here as well.

Is this the sumptuous waterfall edge to the Huawei Mate 30 Pro?

@evleaks

The display design is sumptuous

This is what’s called a waterfall display. No, there’s no actual water involved, it means the way the display cascades over the edges like, you’ve guessed it, a waterfall. It’s one of the things that makes the phone looks so gorgeous and appealing.

Only one button – so where’s the volume control?

There’s a simplicity to design with fewer buttons, especially since there’s no visible fingerprint sensor, too. But the only previous phone with barely any buttons, from LG, had big volume rockers either side of the fingerprint/power button. This doesn’t seem to, seeming to confirm a previous rumor that the volume controls, like the fingerprint sensor, will be buried under the display. Cool, huh?

And one big unanswered question

This kind of leak can’t answer the biggest question of all: what software will the Mate 30 Pro use? Unless something changes in the U.S.-China trade negotiations, it seems Huawei can’t use the full Google Mobile Services Android on its next phones.

Now, things are changing very quickly in this situation but I doubt there’ll be any movement before this week’s reveal.

So, don’t be surprised if there’s a gap between announcement and release or even if Huawei play things close to their chest.

It could choose to put its own Harmony OS onboard but it’s made clear that’s a back-up, not the first choice.

It could put open-source Android on the phone and find some way to make it easy for customers to add apps like Google Maps, Gmail and so on. That’s possible, too.

That may not be answered this week, but for everything else, not long until we know.

__________

Follow me on Instagram by clicking here: davidphelantech and Twitter: @davidphelan2009

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Follow me on Twitter.

I’ve been writing about technology for two decades and am always struck by how the sector swings from startling innovation to regular repetitiveness. My areas of specialty are wearable tech, cameras, home entertainment and mobile technology. Over the years I’ve written about gadgets for the Daily Telegraph, the Sunday Times, the Daily Mail, the Sun, Metro, Stuff, T3, Pocket-lint, Wareable.com and Wired. Right now most of my work away from Forbes appears in the Independent, the Evening Standard and Monocle Magazine. Parenthetically, I also work as an actor, enjoying equally the first Mission Impossible movie, a season at Shakespeare’s Globe and a stint on Hollyoaks. Follow me on Instagram: davidphelantech, or Twitter: @davidphelan2009

Source: Huawei Mate 30 Pro Leak Shows Stunning Design And Cool Features

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