Huawei’s AppGallery is the ‘underdog’ app store (run by one of the world’s richest companies)

 

It’s hard to call yourself an underdog when you’re a tech titan like Huawei. And yet with Apple and Google’s storefronts so dominant – so much so they are being challenged in the courts – it’s hard not to see Huawei’s AppGallery as the scrappy up-and-comer. And Jaime Gonzalo, the guy in charge of AppGallery in Europe, likes it that way.

Gonzalo is a proper mobile games veteran. He started out as a game producer at Gameloft, before moving to Vivendi in the mid-2000s, working on Crash Bandicoot, Spyro and World of Warcraft. From there he moved to EA, where he was director and head of business operations and partnerships, before serving as Google Play’s Apps and Games lead for EMEA for a short spell in 2015/16.

Gonzalo’s been at Huawei since 2016, and speaks about the giant smartphone maker as it were a start-up. Why? Because outside of HQ in China, the teams are trusted to just get down to business and make decisions for themselves with very little interference, he says.

He’s also generous with his time, and keen to chat before, during and after our interview – quite the opposite of the guarded, painfully on-message big tech exec we were expecting.

So, AppGallery. Some basics to begin: any game that works on Android will work on AppGallery, says Gonzalo. And because Huawei is not allowed to operate Google Play on its devices thanks to a Trump-era US policy, the first built-in option Huawei users will go to is AppGallery. So if you’re not on AppGallery, you’re not easily discoverable on any Huawei phone.

Viewed on a browser, AppGallery looks like Apple’s App Store from a few years ago, and uses much of the same language.

“Because we’re Android compatible, we have Unity solutions and native solutions… development time to bring your game to AppGallery is minutes or hours,” says Gonzalo. “So with very little effort for a developer, they can open up a non-saturated channel.”

The next obvious question for developers is: how many people have Huawei phones? Huawei claims that in Q1 2022 AppGallery had 580m global MAUs (up 10% YoY). And in Europe, Huawei says its app store has 45m active users (+7% YoY). It’s not just Huawei hardware, says Gonzalo: 30% of AppGallery downloads come from other Android devices.

However they get to AppGallery, they’ll find a store aimed at high value users and built around discovery and editorial, says Gonzalo. “A normal user, they will go to the mainstream channels, but the real gamers communicate in communities, in Discord, inside the games,” he tells us. “So we organise coupons, cashback programmes, gifts for new players, welcome packages. And they talk about that in forums. And that audience is more loyal.”

Gonzalo also stresses that because of its underdog status, Huawei has put more resources than Apple or Google into helping developers come to the platform. “Other big tech companies, they tend to have, like, a small ivory tower in one city and from there they service the rest of the world or the rest of the continent,” says Gonzalo. “We have made the effort to allocate 20 to 30 people in each country in Europe.”

Huawei’s current flagship phone, the P40 Pro+.

Indeed, the support staff numbers he reels off are pretty substantial: Huawei has a team of 100 that serves developers in Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway, and nations like France, Spain, Poland, Romania and Turkey each have around 25 dedicated staff.

“If developers have an issue, they don’t need to wait for a continent to wake up in another timezone,” says Gonzalo. “They have someone nearby – sometimes we send our support team to their office to code and figure it out together.”

“Unfortunately, not all the big stores dedicate time to non-triple-A developers,” he continues. “We are able to.”

Huawei’s cut of IAP revenue is 15%, then 30% above a certain threshold, like Apple and Google, but some developers may be eligible to get user acquisition credits on top, for use within Huawei’s own UA network.

“We are exploring different ways all the time,” says Gonzalo. “And it’s important to note that AppGallery isn’t a finished product, it’s a roadmap. We are quite young, we keep learning and we keep exploring ways to help developers to keep a healthy and sustainable partnership.”

The top ten charts as of 6/6/22 – some familiar names in here, plus a few less well-known titles.

IGG, FunPlus, Playrix, Rovio, Wargaming, Gameloft and Scopely are among the top partners for Huawei, says Gonzalo, and while no-one gets special treatment, “the partnership counts in the commission discussion,” he says.

For those worried about privacy and data collection – the thing that prompted the Trump-era ‘Huawei ban’ – Gonzalo is also keen to point out that Huawei’s AppGallery is not actually run by Huawei outside of China; it’s operated by a separate company headquartered in Dublin, and its servers are in Germany.

Gonzalo also says he is asked all the time if Huawei’s powerful presence in China can open some doors for developers looking to release games over there. “We will recommend popular publishers we know can help in the sense of cultural adaptation,” he says, “but we don’t ‘fastlane’ progression and we don’t use our influence to speed up that licence – despite many people asking…”

Again, AppGallery product pages take plenty of inspiration from Apple’s App Store.

There’s life outside Apple and Google’s stores, it seems, and Huawei appears to be genuinely putting resources and effort behind getting developers on its platform. Naturally, it takes its 30% in exchange for those efforts, just like Apple and Google, but for developers with active Android games seeking a run at a far less crowded marketplace, AppGallery seems like a decent alternative to explore.

Gonzalo’s under no illusions when it comes to market presence – AppGallery will never boast of billions of active users, but it can potentially provide an extra revenue stream for developers who want to engage with his team.

“We understand that we are not industry leaders,” he adds. “We are like the underdog – a friendly one…”