As Huawei pushes forward with its mobile plans sans access to Google applications and the Play Store, the Huawei AppGallery will become increasingly important. Not only as a platform to download new mobile applications, but also a tool for developers wanting to gain access to a new audience.

While the AppGallery has existed on older Huawei phones that ran Google Mobile Services, if we’re completely honest about our experiences, it was often pushed to side in favour of the Play Store. As such, like many of the duplicated apps that could not be deleted at the time, the AppGallery felt a bit like bloatware.

That’s changed today though, with Huawei Mobile Services now core to the mobile experience on new devices launched this year, such as the P40 series, and the AppGallery playing the crucial complementary role to this.

To gain a better understanding of how the app marketplace has evolved to its current state, as well as how Huawei goes about selecting or porting apps to the store, along with what developers stand to gain from joining it, we spoke with Huawei Mobile South Africa CTO, Akhram Mohamed.

Here’s what he had to say about the AppGallery, and why it forms part of a larger ecosystem that Huawei is quickly aiming to bring to fruition.

Creating an ecosystem

As mentioned earlier, the AppGallery has been around for a few years now, but is now front and centre to the Huawei mobile experience. As such, for many users the functionality available will be foreign, but as Mohamed explains, it has been there for some time.

“I think historically, because we were running the core services on GMS, it (AppGallery) was an app repository, just like any other. It didn’t drive our agenda as we did not have a specific need to create tools for the entire ecosystem,” says Mohamed.

“Now that we have shifted to HMS it means that we will be owning the entire ecosystem. It therefore becomes crucial that we don’t just simply have a place where apps are downloaded, and now we’re focusing on how to improve the entire experience,” he notes.

The CTO adds that the company’s hand being forced as far as developing its own mobile ecosystem goes, has also proved beneficial for the AppGallery, particularly when it comes to porting apps over to the new store.

This, as the previous scenario saw the AppGallery being ignored for the most part, with the Play Store being favoured most of time.

The current landscape then, has seen Huawei engage more intimately with developers.

“By going the HMS route, we have a vast number of new users across the globe and in South Africa too. This creates a great case for developers to say that ‘I can now monetise this and reach these consumers’,” according to Mohamed.

Being selective

Sticking with the idea of porting apps and growing the AppGallery library, the CTO tells us that Huawei’s plan as far as getting the most popular global and local apps in its store has been a success to date.

He estimates that “the list”, which Huawei created for the apps it deemed crucial to having in its store, is currently sitting at around 95 percent completion. He also notes that this list is in a constant state of evolution, as Huawei continues to learn what its users are wanting in terms of app availability.

“We had to go an do extensive research. That was through third-party paid research, to find out what are the most popular apps and what do South African consumers want. At the same time we looked at global trends and data,” Mohamed explains.

He points out that usability played a bit part in selecting the priority apps for the AppGallery, as the number of downloads only paint part of the picture.

Looking at some of the strides that Huawei has been making of late, the CTO highlights partnerships and collaboration a key focus moving forward, with the company’s recent work alongside Capitec serving as an example.

That said he does stress that Huawei is taking a different approach to partnerships than what you may typically think they would involve.

“It’s important for me to clarify what partnership means. Partnerships are not just marketing. For us, partnerships is about looking at value and how we can be different,” he says.

“Having a number of different banking applications to match that of another app store is not what we’re after, as it does not make us better. What we’re looking for is how to make the partnership and porting of the application part of the native Huawei experience. In our partnerships we are looking for deep integration,” he continues.

Bold forecast

Shifting to the consumer and developer response around HMS and the AppGallery, Mohamed is truly pleased with the numbers he has seen to date, which he says is all the more impressive given the short period of time that HMS-powered Huawei phones have been on the market.

While the COVID-19 pandemic and national lockdown posed significant challenges for Huawei, as it did most of the consumer technology industry, the CTO notes that Huawei has been able to garner substantial customer satisfaction and sales despite several hurdles.

To that end he notes that customer satisfaction since HMS devices launched in the country is sitting at 97 percent, with much of this down to the fact that Huawei had its digital channels in place before lockdown began, along with a 24/7 customer care platform for local users being up and running.

Added to this is a rather bold prediction too.

“In terms of volumes, our total sales percentage of HMS devices in South Africa within the next two months will exceed the total sales of GMS in the same period compared to last year,” the CTO says.

When we asked for more insight into the prediction, he explained that this year-on-year projection, which started with a slight slump in March due to the lockdown, but recovered steadily since then.

We need to see the likes of GfK and other market analysts confirming the sales figures, but if it the projection does hold true, it seems like the Huawei brand is far stronger than we originally estimated, and the lack of Google on devices is not as big a purchasing decision as we thought it would be.

It would also go a long way to affirming that Huawei Mobile Services and the AppGallery has a burgeoning user and developer community, with the latter being an area that Mohamed says the company is still determined to nurture despite not being able to host in-person dev days, as it’s done previously.