A Chinese tech columnist is disputing that Huawei’s new phone can, literally, shoot the moon

No longer the hero?
No longer the hero?
Image: REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo - RC129149B320
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Huawei’s P30 Pro, the company’s current flagship smartphone, launched with a unique “Moon mode” function. It’s software that lets users take close-up shots of the Moon, capturing surprisingly refined details of its surface. But a Chinese tech critic claims that Huawei’s phones actually “painted in pre-existing imagery” onto photos of the Moon taken with the phone, adding details that aren’t present in the original shots, without the company telling users that it was doing so.

“It is impossible for these details, added using the phone’s algorithm, to be captured under the model’s original image-taking capacities, yet Huawei has attributed all the nice visual effects of the Moon images to P30 Pro’s 50x zoom capabilities,” Peng Lin, the founder and columnist at the Chinese technology review site FView (link in Chinese), said in a 25-minute video (link in Chinese) posted on his Weibo account Sunday (June 16).

Peng has called for Huawei to clearly indicate in its promotional material that it’s adding details to moon photos, as well as on the phone when users access the Moon mode. He added that he would be filing a civil lawsuit against Huawei as an “individual consumer” after he quits his job at FView.

This isn’t the first time this claim has been levied against Huawei. In April, Wang Yuekun, another FView tech columnist, made similar claims against the model, based on a series of self-conducted experiments, saying parts of the moon photos were effectively “photoshopped” by the phone’s algorithms. Wang was fired from FView shortly after, with the outlet criticizing Wang for making a “serious mistake” with his claims. Huawei said at the time that the Moon mode only “recognizes and optimizes details within an image,” but “does not in any way replace the image.”

Huawei did not reply to requests for comment, while Peng told Quartz he didn’t want to talk to foreign media.

Smartphones have increasingly relied on artificial intelligence to enhance the quality of photos they shoot. Brands such as Apple, Samsung, and Huawei are all using computational photography, where images are captured using digital techniques not possible with a traditional camera. But there comes a point, as highlighted with Moon mode and Google’s Night Sight mode, where questions are raised as to the extent that someone is still taking a photograph when AI is enhancing much of the image the user is actually seeing.

Lawsuits against Huawei are rare in China, where the company has long been lauded as a shining example of the country’s technological prowess by Beijing. Huawei’s founder Ren Zhengfei has repeatedly said (link in Chinese) the company would not lean on nationalist popularity, and that it is open to global trade amid the rising trade tensions between China and the US. The trade war has dovetailed with long-held US national security concerns about Huawei, although people in China have hailed the company as a symbol of the country’s resilience in the face of pressure from outside the Middle Kingdom.

“It has almost become a kind of ‘political correctness’ to be supportive of Huawei while avoiding any criticism towards it these days,” said one of the most up-voted comments under the news on WeChat (link in Chinese).

Since May, US companies have been barred from doing business with Huawei, and on Monday, Ren said that the company is likely to see its revenue drop by $30 billion over the next two years. Bloomberg also reported Huawei is looking at a drop in phone sales between 40 million to 60 million units this year amid the trade tensions.