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Bill Bennett

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Tag: phones

Mobile phones: iOS and Android, with a smattering of Windows and BlackBerry.

Petal Search highlights barriers facing Huawei

A US ban shut Huawei out of Google Play Services. It hope Petal Search will make that less of a problem.

Huawei sold more phones than any other company last quarter. It overtook Samsung, mainly thanks to strong sales in China.

For Huawei, success in the home market is a bright spot. Things are less positive in the rest of the world.

Last year the US government issued an embargo that stops the company from using Google’s version of Android.

This makes it harder for people who purchase new Huawei phones to find the big name apps. Among the ones that are hard to get are WhatsApp, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and Google Maps.

Popular apps missing

Not having the most popular apps is a barrier to selling phones. Ten years ago Microsoft’s Windows Phone operating system floundered because the world’s largest software company didn’t include the most popular apps.

It’s technically possible to run a lot of popular Android apps on a Huawei phone.1 To get them users are required to do a lot of the leg work.

Some popular Android apps can work through a browser, in many cases with less functionality.

In practice the workarounds can be tedious and laborious, the kind of dreary repetitive tasks that technology was meant to eliminate.

That may not be a barrier to people reading this blog post, it will be a huge problem for less tech-savvy phone buyers. There’s another problem to consider that we’ll get to in moment.

Easier, not easy

Huawei aims to make the task easier. Its main, long term, strategy is a Huawei-branded App Store. Many apps have made it to the Huawei App Store. But there are millions, Huawei says around three million, more apps out there.

The company is racing to fill the Huawei App Store, but that will take time. It needs to convince developers to offer tweaked versions of their software. Huawei’s base software is Android, which means Android apps don’t need much work to make the cut. Yet, building Huawei specific versions is not going to be a priority for every developer.

Petal Search is Huawei’s interim alternative. It lets users search for non-Google Play versions of Android apps. In many cases these can be downloaded from developer sites or from third party app libraries.

While it works fine on one level, it is far from perfect. For a start, apps stores have conditioned users to expect timely, automatic updates when software is refreshed. Petal Search doesn’t fix that. You could find yourself running insecure versions of apps – as if the Android world wasn’t insecure enough.

And this brings us to the other big problem. App store owners are supposed to vet apps for quality and security flaws. This doesn’t always work as it should, but there is safety going through the big official app stores.

Petal Search risks

Petal Search can leave you wandering through the seedy backstreets. It can be risky.

Huawei doesn’t need to worry about Chinese customers, they don’t use Google Play Services. There are other countries where Google is less important. But for the western world, the company has millions of phones in circulation that will, in the coming years, be up for renewal. If the Huawei app experience disappoints, they won’t be upgrading to a Huawei phone.

And that’s the huge barrier facing Huawei. It doesn’t matter how great the hardware is, nor does it matter if Huawei sharpens its pencil and drops prices to bargain basement levels. Without access to the apps phone buyers want to run, those fancy phones are lifeless slabs of glass, plastic and metal. They will be almost impossible to sell.


  1. Although paid apps and apps requiring subscriptions can be extra tricky. ↩︎

Huawei Y6P review: Budget phone but no Google

Huawei’s NZ$3001 Y6P comes with a three lens rear camera and a 5000mAh battery. There is a 6-inch screen and 64GB of storage.

You get a lot of phone for $300. Low cost phones always come with compromises. This one is a potential killer. A US technology ban means Huawei can’t sell Android phones with all the Google trimmings.

If you prefer US surveillance capitalism over a Chinese alternative stop reading now. This is not for you. Look elsewhere.

Google free zone

There are no Google apps. Instead Huawei offers its own app gallery and a new app to help you find apps that run on post-Google Huawei phones. We’ll look at the Petal Search app in a separate post.

A word of warning: there will be popular paid for or subscription Android apps that won’t run on this phone. That said, if you use that kind of software, it’s unlikely you’d be looking for a bargain basement phone.

The phone hardware is promising enough. Huawei says that 5000nAh battery is good for 32 hours of video playback. It will handle 20 hours of web surfing using mobile data. In normal use you should go two or more days between charges.

Charging other phones

Huawei has included hardware that allows you to charge other phones from the Y6P. You’ll need to buy a separate reverse charging adapter to do this.

The adaptor is not available on Huawei’s New Zealand website at the time of writing. Finding one online shouldn’t be a struggle, but it highlights a lack of attention to detail. It’s something you wouldn’t expect Apple to miss.

Almost the entire front of the phone is a 6-inch 720×1600 display. Huawei’s specification sheet says 6.3-inches, but the image doesn’t go to the edge of the display.

Huawei calls its display Dewdrop. That’s a fancy way of saying the camera notch is tiny compared with other phones. It is, but in practice it is no less irritating.

Y6P camera

Phone makers spend a lot of time talking about cameras. This is the main area where the Y6P departs from premium phones. Keep in mind, the Y6P is at least a grand cheaper than today’s top handsets.

There’s a 13 megapixel camera on the back. It comes with a 5MP wide angle camera and a 2MP depth camera for bokeh shots. The front camera is 8MP.

No-one is going to get excited about the phone’s photography. It’s more than adequate, roughly in line with what you might find on a premium phone three or four years ago. This is more than enough for casual photography, but don’t plan to shoot you next movie on the Y6P.

It’s not a fabulous phone. Yet the Y6P is great value. The big problem is that while it looks like and feels like an Android, it isn’t.

Although you can work around the restrictions, you may not want to. There will be readers who enjoy that challenge. You may have better things to do with your time.


  1. If you’re quick you can buy the Huawei Y6P phone for $200. After August 10 the price will be $300. ↩︎

Huawei handset sales pass Samsung

Huawei phonesReuters reports: Huawei overtakes Samsung as top handset maker thanks to robust China sales

China’s Huawei Technologies snatched the title of biggest smartphone seller from Samsung Electronics in the second quarter, underscoring the resilience of the China market even as global demand for phones plunged amid the pandemic.

Huawei shipped 55.8 million devices in the April-June period, trumping Samsung’s 53.7 million, according to data from research firm Canalys.

There’s not much in it and phone companies can, sometimes do,  manipulate ‘shipping’ data. Numbers for China are notoriously rubbery.

Yet Huawei snatching the phone sales crown from Samsung marks an important turning point. Five years ago at the Huawei P8 phone launch in Singapore, consumer business group CEO Richard Yu told me his goal was to beat Samsung.

Beat Samsung, challenge Apple

Yu also said Huawei plans to challenge Apple. Samsung may have been the best selling phone brand, but Apple is the one that makes all the money and is recognised by its rivals as the leader. That’s another story.

What’s remarkable about Huawei passing Samsung this year is the company can’t sell a thing in the US, one of the largest markets. It is also hamstrung by US sanctions that mean it can’t use new American-made technology from companies like Google or Microsoft. Most important of all, this means Android.

The pandemic could have been another barrier between Huawei and its phone sales ambition. Covid-19 hit China hard early on and disrupted the country’s supply chains.

Huawei made it to the top rank on the back of dominating sales in China, the world’s biggest phone market.

It’s not all good news for Huawei. The company’s phone sales were down five percent when compared with the same period a year ago. Meanwhile Samsung sales fell 30 percent. Huawei’s non-China sales fell by almost as much: 27 percent.

It’s likely normal service will be resumed when markets recover from the pandemic. Samsung can press home its Android advantage. The company has moved closer to Google since the US pushed its main rival away from the search giant.

There’s a possibility the lack of Android and Google services has yet to sink in with Huawei’s non-China customers.

Yet for now, we can let Huawei enjoy reaching its long-held goal.

 

How to choose hardware that can last for years

Apple Newton MessagePad 130It raised smiles 14 years ago when I carried a 1996 Apple Newton MessagePad 130 into the IDG Auckland office.

IDC is the publisher of titles like Reseller News, ComputerWorld and PC World. It was a workplace where the Newton was instantly recognisable.

The Newton looked odd among the 2006 Motorola flip phones, Blackberrys and Palm Pilots1.

Old dogs, old tricks

Odd, but not too ancient to use. My Newton still worked fine. I could still scrawl notes on the screen with a stylus2. It could still track my diary dates and manage my contacts.

Of course, the Newton couldn’t hook up to much else. The Newton MessagePad predated Wi-fi and Bluetooth. However there was a proprietary cable that would send a trickle of data to and from a PC or Mac.

The Newton needed AA batteries. I had a rechargeable pack that was an afterthought, but my MessagePad didn’t have internal rechargeable power like many modern devices in the 2005.

My motivation for digging the Newton out from the back of the cupboard and giving it another go was twofold.

First, I wanted to see if the technology was as far ahead of its time as it seemed in 1993 when I had my first Newton. In some ways it was.

The second reason was because, at the time, there were rumours Apple was working on something that would replace the Newton. According to the reports that something was also a phone.

The rest is history.

Hardware that goes on and on

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the Newton MessagePad 130 was that it was still working after a decade. When the Newton line was first launched there was talk of the devices being short-lived. A year later I sold my working Newton on TradeMe.

So long as it isn’t dropped or hammered by hard use, a digital device can live a long time. It will always be able to do whatever it was purchased for in the first place3.

But keeping devices for years is not fashionable. In some circles it is almost viewed as subversive.

Technology companies carpet bomb journalists like me who covering the sector with new products. There is a constant stream of product launches. New this, improved that, enhanced4 something else and so on.

It can get tiring.

New, improved a bit

Often the new thing is better than the old thing. It is rare that it is so much better that we should bin the old stuff and buy the new. And yet that is what people do. Often far too soon.

The hardware you buy can, and should, last for years. There is more to not jumping to the latest model than being frugal. Electronic hardware is hard on the planet, an ecological time bomb. In the case of some materials it can also be the cause of much misery.

Upgrading less often makes the world a better place.

Wise technology buyers choose hardware with a long life. Even if you don’t intend to hang on to something for ages, you’ll get a better price if you sell your device on when you upgrade.

Hardware that lasts

There are two parts to finding products that last a long time. Some hardware brands take a pride in making things that last. Others design their gear so that it can be upgraded.

According to Asymco, the average life of an Apple device in 2018 was four years and three months. That number has increased since then. I’ve seen estimates that iPhones now last almost five years.

Statista estimates the life of an average phone, iPhone and Android, in the US is around 2.88 years.

The sources and methodologies for the two sets of statistics are different, so we can’t read too much into the numbers. Even so, it appears Android phones are active for much less that iPhones.

Retain value

Supporting evidence for this comes from Trademe. Second-hand iPhones retain value far more than second hand Android phones.

Another thing to consider is that Apple has historically provided software updates for longer than Android phone makers.

The point here is not to say one is better than the other. I’ll leave that to you. What’s important is if a phone’s lifespan is important to you, choose an iPhone.

You can do similar research with tablets and various types of computers. Apple hardware tends towards lasting longer than average.

Meanwhile some brands are easier to upgrade. You can’t do much to keep a MacBook Air up to date. It’s a piece of cake to put more memory, more storage or a faster drive in a Windows desktop computer.

Popular helps

There is something else to consider about device long life. If you choose a popular brand, that would be Apple or Samsung for phones, Apple, HP and Dell for laptops and so on, there’s a bigger community of people to support that product over the long haul.

You won’t have trouble finding someone to fix a broken Apple or Samsung phone, you might struggle if you pick a less popular brand like, say, Oppo.

Likewise there is a ready market in components like replacement batteries or screens for popular products. Finding parts for obscure hardware is tough.

You may have other tips for getting more out of your spending on hardware. Feel free to share in the comments below. There is a prize for the best tip.


  1. I had each of these too ↩︎
  2. Apple had fixed the early teething troubles with handwriting recognition, late model Newtons like the 130 were remarkably good at the job. ↩︎
  3. So long as there are no idiotic software updates that render the thing useless. ↩︎
  4. Was there ever such a weaselly marketing word as enhanced? It implies something is better when often it means is some problems are now fixed. ↩︎

Vodafone, 2degrees shine in mobile experience report

Tutela says Vodafone has New Zealand’s fastest mobile data. It wins with downloads and uploads. The mobile industry research company says 2degrees has the highest consistent quality and the best latency.

When it comes to raw mobile speed Vodafone is well in front of Spark and 2degrees. Its median download speed is 23.9 Mbps. Uploads come in at 9.2 Mbps.

Spark trails with a median download speed of 20 Mbps. That’s not far behind Vodafone, yet it has the slowest upload speed at 7.7 Mbps.

Tutela speed test results June 2020

While 2degrees has the slowest median download speed at 19.5 Mbps, that is only 4.4 Mbps behind the leader. The company is second when it comes to upload speeds with a median of 8.1 Mbps.

Tutela reports on consistent quality

According to Tutela the 2degrees network is good enough for applications like high definition video calls, streaming video and mobile gaming for 85.6 percent of the time.

Tutela calls this measure ‌Excellent Consistent Quality. The mobile carriers are only compared in places where they all have coverage.

Spark follows a fraction behind meeting the standard for 84.9 percent of the time.

Vodafone brings up the rear on that measure, reaching the required level 81.9 percent of the time.

The numbers are so close that it might help to think of the scores as a draw with Vodafone a tick behind.

2degrees wins on latency

2degrees had the best one-way latency result at 24.5 ms. It was followed by Vodafone at 25.9 ms. Spark in third for a median one-way latency of 29.4 ms.

Looking at these numbers it seems there is not much in it. Although Vodafone and 2degrees do better than Spark in almost every measurement, no single carrier is a long way ahead or behind the pack.

The report also shows that if Vodafone’s December 5G launch has made any impact, it is mainly at the margins.

To get these results Tutela took 3.89 billion network quality measurements including 1.36 million speed tests.

Tutela carried out tests for the June 2020 report between March and May of this year. As New Zealand was in lockdown for much of this time the numbers may not reflect everyday mobile performance.