Huawei is developing an alternative to Google Maps

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Huawei will release a mapping toolkit to link mobile apps and services to local maps in October, which could be a replacement for Google Maps, according to Chinese state-owned news site China Daily. The service, called Map Kit, will not be for consumer use when it launches in October, but for back-end developers to build apps with its mapping capabilities.

Huawei
Harmony from Huawei.
Huawei

Zhang Pingan, president of cloud services at Huawei's consumer business group, said Map Kit will be available in 40 languages, offer real-time traffic conditions, boast a highly sophisticated navigation system, and support augmented reality (AR) mapping. So far, US travel website aggregator Booking Holdings and Russian internet giant Yandex have partnered with Huawei on the map service.

As a product for developers, Map Kit will be a valuable tool to keep location-based apps running on HarmonyOS if Huawei loses access to Google's services. In the face of possible bans that would block it from key software like Android, Huawei has been developing its own operating system (OS), dubbed HarmonyOS

If Huawei is ultimately banned from using Google's products, Map Kit can substitute mapping data for any third-party HarmonyOS apps reliant on Google Maps' data, enabling a developer to switch from Google's data to Huawei's. This is important because it could sustain customers' use of a significant portion of apps — over 50% of mobile apps rely on location or map capabilities, according to Zhang.

Huawei could also turn Map Kit into a consumer-facing app, which would open two important opportunities.

  • In the medium term, Huawei could work with Chinese companies like Alibaba or Tencent to monetize the service with ads. Ad revenue from a maps app could be lucrative for Huawei, especially because it's integrating AR features, which increases the number of in-app advertising mediums — a strategy employed by Google.
  • If Huawei is blocked from Android, a consumer map app would expand its app ecosystem and smooth a transition to HarmonyOS.Huawei ostensibly still needs to populate its Android alternative with preinstalled apps and services. A consumer-facing map app could help Huawei build out that ecosystem.

A Huawei consumer-facing map app could find success in the Chinese market, despite being a late entry to a crowded market. In China, a host of alternatives to Google Maps sprang up after the company exited the market in 2010, including Baidu Maps and OsmAnd.

But given that Huawei is the most popular phone vendor in China, its own app could pose a threat. In Q1 2019 Huawei represented 34% of all smartphones sold in China — making its maps service the stock app for its phones would likely encourage uptake, similar to Apple Maps' introduction on iPhones.

But in foreign markets like Europe, customers would be especially hard to win over as they are more deeply ingrained in Google's ecosystem.The majority of European smartphone users use Google's search (96%) and browser (61%) products, meaning they're also likely accustomed to the company's map and direction apps.

This could mean they'd be more likely to ditch Huawei hardware to keep their Google offerings than they would be to adopt Huawei's homegrown services.

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