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Huawei to Replace Google Maps with TomTom
COVID-19 and China
Finding their destination. Image credit: Julentto Photography/Unsplash

The first phase of the China-US trade agreement did not remove Huawei from the trade blacklist and new models of Huawei smartphones released abroad still cannot be equipped with Google’s internet services. 

Losing Google services means users cannot access the play store, they cannot download or browse apps such as Gmail or YouTube which is already a huge blow, but not having the map is a bigger issue. Taxi’s, meal delivery apps, dating apps, and review applications all use and are connected to the call the system's Google Maps on overseas Android phones. In Europe, which is also Huawei’s most successful overseas market, android phones cannot be used without Google Maps. The flagship Mate 30 series, released last September, has yet to hit the shelves of major operators in Western Europe. Huawei had to use the Mate 20, P30 and other models for nearly a year to launch the new phone to compete with Apple, Samsung, Xiaomi.

TomTom, once the largest digital map provider, charged tens of dollars per user for its navigation service — until Google Maps introduced free voice navigation in 2008 followed by Yandex, amap (高德), Baidu, Naver, Apple. 

TomTom, which constantly updates global maps, navigation and traffic data, is still the best choice for companies that need to build mapping services. Back in 2012, Apple and Google Maps parted ways and Apple introduced Apple Maps to replace Google Maps, which had been pre-installed on the iPhone for years. TomTom was the primary source of data for the original Apple Maps. Uber, which acquired Nokia Maps in 2015 but failed, also teamed up with TomTom to build its own mapping service. 

But Huawei still has a lot of work to do to replace Google Maps. It needs to have its own map application pre-installed on the factory phone and provide API application standards similar to Google Maps for third-party applications to call.

Outside of China, only Amazon Fire has adopted a similar approach with some success. But Amazon has long given up on phones, it only produces tablets, and users don't care much about how maps perform on tablets. 

Making a global map service from scratch requires a lot of investment. By 2012, the Google Maps team plus outsourced staff had 7,100 people. Due to underestimating the workload of the map, Apple Maps, which also relies on TomTom data, was the scene of the accident in the first year, which directly led to the departure of its software leader. It took Apple several years to bring the map to a usable level.

Building a map service that covers the globe from scratch requires a lot of investment. By 2012 Google Maps team plus the outsourced staff consisted of over 7000 members. The Apple Maps, which also relies on TomTom’s data, faced huge difficulties during the first year, leading to the departure of its software chief. It took years for Apple to make Apple Maps usable for its users. 

Apple was able to build its mapping business from scratch because it had absolute control over app developers who had to support Apple Maps. Huawei has no such control over Android apps.

According to the data of connected devices by Statcounter, the use of Xiaomi smartphones in Europe has increased significantly after September 2019. The European mobile phone market share has not been announced in the fourth quarter, but Xiaomi and Samsung have quickly eroded Huawei's growth space in the third quarter.

On the other hand, Huawei is still going strong in the local market. According to data from Canalys the Chinese tech giant captured a record share of China’s smartphone market in the third quarter of 2019. It shipped 41.5 million smartphones in China in the third quarter, representing 66% growth year-on-year. It now commands 42% of China’s overall smartphone market, far outpacing Apple and local Chinese competitors like Vivo, Oppo and Xiaomi.

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