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Hear me on this week’s NZ Tech Podcast. I talk with Paul Spain about Huawei teaming with Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi as a defence against Chinese phone makers being locked out of Google’s Android services. We talk about the incredible progress made by New Zealand’s games developers who have doubled revenues in two years. We also discuss Telsla’s latest moves and a plan to test flying taxis in Christchurch.

You can listen to the podcast on the site or use one of the download services.

Huawei may need Google more than Google needs Huawei, but the ban still threatens Android’s dominance.

May 2019 saw the US President sign an executive order banning ‘foreign adversaries’ from dealing with America’s telecoms industry.

The unnamed ‘foreign adversary’ is Huawei.

Huawei is already banned from building US 5G cellular networks. The order also stopped US companies from working with Huawei’s phone handset business.

This meant Google suspended its business with Huawei. That was a blow for the Chinese phone maker, Huawei phones run on Google’s Android software.

Beyond Android

The ban goes beyond Android. It means Huawei phones can’t use the Play app store. Nor can they use Google Maps, Gmail or the official Search app. Google Mobile Services features are central to the Android phone experience.

Huawei makes some of the best Android phones. It has a huge market share, now second only to Samsung. Yet the company sells little in the US.

With Huawei phones unable to ship with Google apps installed, sales have fallen outside China.

Otherwise, Huawei appears to be in good shape. In October it announced revenues were up 24 percent on the previous year. The company signed 60 contracts to build 5G networks last year.

Huawei could sit out the ban. Many think it is as much about US trade protectionism as anything to do with security.

Subscribers to this school of thought believe the US could lift the Huawei ban as part of trade negotiations.

While that is plausible, Huawei never wants to be in this position again. It cannot afford to be dependent on Google when the US could turn off the tap again at any moment.

Huawei has offered Chinese customers a non-Google version of its phones for years. It isn’t a problem there. It is more of an issue in places like New Zealand, Australia and Europe where people rely on Google services.

To get around the ban, Huawei is replacing Google Mobile Services with its own services. It aims to spend US$ 3 billion this year getting developers to improve Huawei Mobile Services. It has set aside another billion to market those services.

Harmony in my head

Huawei is also developing its own Harmony OS. It scheduled release for early this year. Now Huawei says it is running late and could take years to emerge.

The acid test for Huawei’s post-Google life is the P40 phone launch. It will have no Google services. Huawei expects to lose some market share.

Reuters reports Huawei plans to join forces with other Chinese phone makers to set up a rival to Android and challenge Google Play.

The original plan was to launch in March. This could be set-back by the recent coronavirus outbreak.

Joining Huawei are Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi. For now, the other Chinese phone makers are not locked out of Google. Yet the move amounts to admission they fear the ban could extend to them.

Between them, the four account for 40 percent of handsets sold worldwide. Yet for now they restrict their project to nine regions including India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Russia.

It is still early days. Yet it seems the US ban on Huawei is speeding up Chinese tech companies becoming independent of US ones. They already buy less American hardware, software and services. Google and Android remain strong, but one outcome of the ban is to undermine the near monopoly.

“Anyone saying that Android apps on ChromeOS are a good experience is delusional.”

Google PixelbookIn Chrome OS has stalled out, Dave Ruddock says Google’s Chrome OS has failed to live up to its potential. Ruddock is a Chrome user who says he does 95 percent of his work using the operating system.

When Chrome OS first appeared it looked like the future. Or at least one version of a potential future.

It’s a great idea on paper.

Take a minimal specification computer. One that costs almost nothing to make and almost everyone can afford. Give it just enough hardware to connect to the net and handle a web browser.

Cloud power

Then let efficient remote cloud systems do all the heavy lifting. After all, that’s what most people now do most of the time anyway. Few MacBooks or Surface Books are not web-connected.

ChromeOS users mainly connect to free services. That’s a problem because in the online world free can be a high price to pay.

Large companies don’t give services away out of the goodness of their hearts. They want to advertise their client’s products or manipulate you into voting a certain way. And we all know that works. It’s an aspect of surveillance capitalism.

This gets worse.

ChromeOS uses Android apps to plug functionality or entertainment gaps. The experience is bad.

Android apps can be cheap and nasty at the best of times. They collect far too much user data. Many Android apps live at the seamy end of surveillance capitalism.

Ask yourself why you need to give someone your home address to write a document or your first pet’s name1 in order to put an interesting filter on your uploaded pictures.

Dismal

If that wasn’t bad enough, the Android app on ChromeOS experience is dismal. I can’t bear to use it.

Many apps were clearly written for phones and make little or no allowance for larger screens and keyboards. They are buggy as anything and many are a security nightmare2.

There’s something else bad about Chrome. We live in a world where technology iterates towards a kind of nirvana. Each successive line of Windows or MacOS computers is a step up on what went before. Each new generation of mobile phone has a better camera, faster processor, is packed with more oomph.

This applies even when there are two-steps forward, one step back messes like the butterfly keyboards in recent Apple laptops.

As Ruddock points out, the problem with Chrome, the OS and Chromebooks, the computers do not appear to be moving in any direction.

Going nowhere

Chromebooks are not as clunky as they were, some are nice to use. But it isn’t going anywhere. The Chrome experience has barely changed over the years. There’s little prospect of it changing in the near future.

It’s stagnant.

Sure this might not matter to school students who need a fast, low-cost route to the web. It matters to almost everyone else.

Ruddock says there are aspects of Chrome life that amount to computing barbarism. He is being generous.

Sure, a MacBook or a Surface Book might cost getting on for ten times the price of a Chromebook. But the experience is on another plane. You can do so much more. It’s a struggle doing everyday work on a Chromebook, it’s a challenge being creative.


  1. Maybe not literally. But they often ask for information they have no right collecting ↩︎
  2. Although I doubt the average Chromebook users cares much for security or privacy ↩︎

Nokia 7.1 phone

New phone models arrive monthly. Most phone product lines get an annual refresh.

Apple usually does its annual iPhone upgrades all at once.

Top Android phone makers like Samsung, Huawei and Nokia have a few product lines. Each line gets its own annual update. The phone makers tend to stagger their launches.

Add in the smaller brands and yes, we see a dozen launches of note each year.

Goodbye two year refresh cycle

Phone makers expect you to hang on to a device for at least two years even if they refresh their model lines every year.

Carriers agree. Their phone plans are usually two-year contracts. Remember carriers make money when you to buy new phones and roll over two-year contracts.
While two-year contracts remain popular, they’re less common today than five years ago.

New Zealand’s Inland Revenue Department depreciates phones at 67 percent a year. That implies a life expectancy of under two years.

We’re holding on for longer

Most of us now hold onto phones for longer than two years. No-one forces us to operate on a fixed timetable.

There’s still a difference between Apple and Android phones. Android phone users tend to keep their phones for less time than iPhone users. Apple’s sales figures reflect this. iPhone revenues peaked two years ago. Apple is now focusing on selling services to its customers to make up the shortfall.

Five years ago Benedict Evans reported Android users keep phones for under two years. Back then, Apple iPhones stayed in use for more than two years. There are interesting theories about this in the comments on Evans’ post. This also explains why second-hand iPhones hold their value better than Android phones.

One reason people hold on to phones for longer is that upgrades are more incremental than in the past. A few years ago there would be dramatic changes from one year to the next. Now the emphasis is on cameras and cosmetics.

Phone hardware can live for years

Phones can take a beating. Owners handle them many times each day. They get dropped, knocked, scratched and soaked.

Yet, in most cases, there are no moving parts to seize up.

If you look after your phone and it doesn’t pick up too much moisture, the battery is the first part to wear out. Constant use and charging cycles mean they degrade over time. After about three to four years use they hold as little as half the charge they managed when they were new.

You can replace most phone batteries, even those in sealed phones. It can be difficult, there are official repairers and a cottage industry exists.

Although it may seem expensive to pay someone NZ$100 to replace a battery, it’s cheaper than buying a new phone.

Screen life

Screens last three to ten years depending on the technology, build quality and your use. Often the screen backlighting goes first. Again, repairers can fix these problems.

There are times when a new phone model is compelling.
Sometimes move from one year’s model to the next brings a must-have feature. Even so, you can expect to get at least two years from a device. They should last for three or more. Five years is no longer exceptional.
 Of course, some users give their phones a pounding. If that’s you, or a family member, you have two choices. You could buy a more robust phone model. Or you could opt for a a cheaper model that won’t break the bank when replacement time rolls around.

At $549, the Nokia 7.2 is a decent quality mid-priced Android phone. It hits all the right notes for business buyers. For everyone else, the Nokia 7.2 is a sensible choice rather than a pocket full of digital excitement. Choose it if you view phones as tools, not toys, if you prize value over pizzaz.

Nokia 7.2 at a glance

For:– Android One is the best Android experience
– Uncluttered user interface
– Well made
– Videos look great
Against:– Battery could be better
– Camera decent enough, but pictures a touch ordinary
Maybe:– Sober, business-like looks
Verdict:Sensible choice but doesn’t stand out from mid-range pack.
Six months ago the same specification would have been sensational at the price, today it’s ordinary.
Price:$549
Web:Nokia
Reviewed by:Bill Bennett
Review date:November 14, 2019

HMD Global has revived the Nokia brand with a solid range of mid and low priced Android phones. In doing so, the company has breathed fresh life into that market.

The hardware is well made and reliable, we’ll get to how that works for the Nokia 7.2 in a moment.

Build quality is important, yet the company’s main strength lies in its partnership with Google. It is part of Google’s Android One programme.

Best Android around

In effect, Android One means Nokia phone owners get the best experience Google’s operating system has to offer.

You won’t see bloatware or other annoyances. You won’t face inconsistencies.

And you don’t run the gauntlet of risky pre-installed software. Best of all, it means the user interface is refreshingly uncluttered.

Android One is possibly the purest form of Android. Companies like HMD Global who are part of the programme agree not to change the software.

In return, Google commits to refreshing the Android operating system for two years and providing monthly security updates for three years.

In other words, you know where you are with a Nokia phone and you know where you are going. Buy almost any other Android model and operating system updates are something of a lottery. In most cases, your security is, at best, an afterthought.

If I were to buy an Android phone, I’d choose the Nokia-Android One approach.

Nokia 7.2 – good business choice

Android One is particularly good for business phone buyers who worry about security and keeping software current. Like I said at the top of this story, it’s a sensible choice but it’s not a thrill-packed ride into the outer limits of geek wizardry.

The Nokia 7.2’s hardware is more or less what you’d get elsewhere for $550. There’s a 6.3-inch screen with what Nokia calls a teardrop notch. Some Nokia phones allow you to black the top lines of the screen out giving you a square display. For some reason this is not an option with the 7.2 does.

Nokia’s PureDisplay technology means standard definition video plays beautifully. Software, I presume it is software, tweaks the video picture to make it look more like high definition video.

In practice, this is better than it sound. It is also better than you’ll find in other similarly priced midrange phones, or at least the ones I’ve seen here in New Zealand.

The display doesn’t compare with the much brighter OLED technology found on more expensive phones, but that would double the price tag.

There’s a rear fingerprint sensor. People can get agitated about the position of a fingerprint sensor. Putting it on the back makes for more screen on the front. It almost covers the entire front of the phone. Nokia also includes a Google Assistant button, if that’s your thing.

Back in black

The review phone is what HMD calls ‘charcoal’. This is marketing speak for black. The case sits somewhere on the spectrum between matt black and glossy black.

Black means the Nokia 7.2 looks more like a business phone than some of the flashy colours you can find on Chinese made phones.

The phone’s back has a pronounced camera bump. There is what Nokia calls a ‘triple lens’ camera. While that’s true in a strict sense, it isn’t the whole story. You get a 48 megapixel lens and a secondary eight megapixel wide lens camera. The third lens is a five megapixel depth sensor. It doesn’t take pictures. So, in this case ‘triple lens’ means two usable lenses.

The set up takes decent pictures, but then show me a 2019 phone that doesn’t. They aren’t outstanding, but they can be good. You’ll struggle to find a better phone camera on sale in New Zealand at this price unless you go to a parallel importer. On the other hand, you may find a set of camera features that better suits your needs.

What else?

Some observations:

  • Despite the generous (at this price) 3500mAh battery, the Nokia 7.2 runs down a little faster than I like. I haven’t pushed it to the limit yet, but suspect it might not get me from 7:00 to 23:00 on a busy running around work day.
  • 128GB of storage and 4GB of Ram seems good for a $550 phone.
  • The Snapdragon 660 processor offers the kind of performance you’d expect in this price range. If you’re coming from a premium phone you might find it a little sluggish, but that’s more because you’ve been spoiled.
  • This would be a great phone to buy for employees or younger family members who don’t feel the need for a day-glo finish.