Huawei opens $53 million regional centre in Singapore

Chinese tech giant Huawei yesterday launched a US$40 million (S$52.8 million) regional centre here that lets developers test apps and services for its mobile devices, its first in the Asia-Pacific.

The centre, dubbed a DigiX Lab, will provide online and offline consultation for developers, and hands-on support in app development using augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence, software to port apps to Huawei devices, and other technologies.

The launch comes amid a United States ban on Huawei since May 2019 that limits its ability to use American tech giant Google’s services and apps, like the Google Play app store, for its products. This prompted the Chinese company to further develop its own platform, called Huawei Mobile Services (HMS).

And despite the Covid-19 pandemic, Huawei also expanded its HMS team here by three times in the past year, including operations, marketing and technical staff to support Singapore app developers.

It declined to reveal the HMS team’s size, but said that it has more than 650 employees here, of which more than 70 per cent are local.

The company said the lab in Changi Business Park “leverages Singapore’s importance as a growing technological hub in the Asia-Pacific” to boost the mobile ecosystem throughout the region.

Mr Nicholas Ma, chief executive of Huawei International, said that the lab is an example of the company “doubling down on future growth in Singapore”.

HMS has been around for years and has its own app store, called AppGallery, that was launched in China in 2011 and globally in 2018.

The Singapore DigiX Lab is Huawei’s second one in the world. The first was launched in Germany and six others are in the pipeline, said the company.

The Singapore lab serves markets with the most registered Huawei developers in the Asia-Pacific, such as Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Hong Kong.

Huawei is spending US$40 million on the lab over two to three years, starting from last year.

The amount is for hiring technical experts, including some for the HMS team, the construction and maintenance of the physical DigiX Lab, an online server and developer resources, devices, and regular events held online and offline at the centre, such as for training workshops and networking.

The lab spans 289 sq m, slightly larger than three four-room Housing Board flats.

There have been concerns that being shut out of Google apps and services would mean much fewer apps for Huawei phones. But the company said it has grown the number of apps for HMS, with more than 120,000 apps as at the end of last year, up from more than 50,000 at the start of 2020.

The company said that more than 90 per cent of the top apps in Singapore are now compatible with HMS. These include WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Telegram, Line and Dropbox. Local apps include those for TraceTogether, ComfortDelGro, DBS Bank, UOB, The Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao.

The latest addition, at the end of last month, was the Grab app. The SingPass app will soon be available in the early half of this year.

While they work with Huawei devices, some apps – such as WhatsApp – can be downloaded only from other sites and not directly from AppGallery yet.

Besides technical assistance, the HMS team has also supported app partners by tailoring co-marketing campaigns based on their apps’ unique selling points and local preferences.

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