It looks like Google is smitten with a new Android partner. Chinese manufacturer Huawei can do no wrong right now. The feelings are definitely mutual, and a closer relationship could deliver major benefits for both companies. Not least because Huawei can help Google get into China, and Google can help Huawei get out.
Why else would Huawei and Google look to partner? Where is Huawei coming from? What is Google after? And what could it all mean for Android users?
Huawei aims high
We took a close look at the Chinese manufacturer at the start in the year in Huawei – Past, Present, and Future. The company has been growing steadily for the last few years. According to IDC, Huawei is now the fourth largest smartphone vendor in the world by market share, securing 5.2% of shipments in the first three months of 2015. It was third for a while, until rival Lenovo acquired Motorola.
Huawei has done well in China and a number of other emerging markets around the world. It has also been doing increasingly well in Europe, but it has not yet cracked the lucrative U.S. market. It’s one thing to sell quality hardware at knock-down prices and generate a lot of sales. But selling premium devices with a huge markup is what most companies aspire to, and Huawei is no different.
The Huawei Watch was the biggest surprise of MWC – few expected anything to get excited about, much less the best-looking Android Wear smartwatch to date. Since then, we’ve been hearing persistent rumors about a Huawei Nexus smartphone. It’s pretty obvious that Huawei wants to secure a prime slice of that high-end market, but it needs a little marketing help.
A partnership with Google could provide design insight, marketing tips, and be interpreted as a general thumbs up for a company that many Western consumers have little knowledge of. Google could help to open doors for Huawei, but it won’t do so unless it stands to gain something.
Winning Google’s affections
If you look at the ebb and flow of Google’s partnerships on the Android scene, you can generally see the motivation behind them. HTC and Samsung produced smartphones capable of competing with the iPhone. LG and Asus offered lower prices without compromising quality.
It’s pretty easy to see what Google wants because it can often be reduced to – as many people as possible accessing the Internet through Google services or apps. Hardware for Google, whether it’s a smartphone, tablet, or laptop, is just a delivery device.
As the smartphone market has grown saturated, prices have dropped until they’re low enough to persuade every last holdout to snag a smartphone. Google’s Android platform is dominant everywhere, except in the largest and fastest growing market in the world.
Google’s relationship with China has been awkward for a while now and it’s falling behind just as the market is really taking off. Apple has been making a concerted effort to secure a decent market share in China and it’s paying off. Maybe Google is looking for a route in. According to IDC, Apple was the largest vendor in China for the first three months of the year (14.7%), with Xiaomi in second (13.7%), and Huawei in third (11.4%). Google already has a relationship with Lenovo (it came fifth with 8.3%).
Could they work out some kind of deal to include Google services on Huawei’s Chinese smartphones? Will Huawei wield its influence with the Chinese government to help hammer out some kind of a deal with Google? Maybe Huawei will help Google to gain market share for a Chinese Play Store. If Google does want to get into China, then partnering with Huawei makes a lot of sense. It’s also worth remembering, though, that Huawei is strong in lots of other markets and Google wants everyone it can get.
Could a deal go deeper?
Huawei also has major credentials in the wireless networking industry, providing equipment for many major carriers across the globe. Even after the claims about Huawei equipment being suspect on political grounds in the US, the company is in a strong position. Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for LTE Network Infrastructure names Huawei as a leader, and points out that it has a broad portfolio that spans the globe.
It’s another potential attraction for Google. We’ve seen some interest in this with Google launching Project Fi. It makes some sense for Google to want to drive the Internet further, delivering better speeds and a better experience, or taking it to areas that have sub-standard service, or no service at all. After all, people can’t enjoy Google services without a decent connection.
If Google was looking to scale up a service like this, offering seamless transition between Wi-Fi and LTE, it could do a lot worse than partner with Huawei. It has the equipment, the expertise, and the patents that Google may need. It’s not going to happen in the short term, but in the future – who knows?
What does it mean for now?
For right now, a closer relationship between Google and Huawei means that the Huawei Watch is likely to be the best Android Wear smartwatch so far. How meaningful that is will depend on how sold you are on the smartwatch trend, but don’t discount it until you see one up close – it’s a really nice device. If you want a premium competitor for the Apple Watch, this could be it.
The prospect of a Huawei Nexus may be more exciting for many Android fans because we’ll probably get great specs with decent pricing. Whether we’ll see a return to the kind of value LG’s Nexus 4 and 5 offered, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Whatever else Huawei may or may not be doing for Google is firmly behind the scenes, but those two forthcoming devices are reason enough for a closer relationship.