What is the fate of Huawei Android phones following the US government ban that has Google, Intel, Qualcomm and others blocking the company from using their commercial services?
Following a US government order to place Huawei on its Entity List, Google has cancelled Huawei Mobile’s Android license. Both Intel and Qualcomm will also not be providing Huawei with chips and other hardware components.
Implication of the ban for Huawei Android phones
What this means is that from this point, Huawei will no longer be able to use Google apps e.g. Google Play, mail, Maps, etc, in upcoming Huawei Android phones, and will also be unable to provide Android OS updates to existing phones. In addition, Huawei will need to source hardware components from non-US companies.
Note that Huawei can still use Android – the vanilla open source version (Android Open Source Project) that does not require anyone to have a license from Google, but any such Huawei Android phones will not have Google Play, Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Maps, etc built in.
A statement by US Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, says:
“This action by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security, with the support of the President of the United States, places Huawei, a Chinese owned company that is the largest telecommunications equipment producer in the world, on the Entity List. This will prevent American technology from being used by foreign owned entities in ways that potentially undermine U.S. national security or foreign policy interests,”
Google says that services like Google Play and security from Google Play Protect will keep functioning on your existing Huawei device . You will also be able to update Google apps on your current Huawei phone.
Not only is Huawei the 2nd largest smartphone manufacturer in the world, they are the leading smartphone brand in Europe. These software and hardware restrictions will deal a huge blow to the brand unless they can sort out a few things.
Huawei Nigeria’s PR Manager mailed us the following official statement:
Huawei has made substantial contributions to the development and growth of Android around the world. As one of Android’s key global partners, we have worked closely with their open-source platform to develop an ecosystem that has benefitted both users and the industry.
Huawei will continue to provide security updates and after sales services to all existing Huawei and Honor smartphone and tablet products covering those have been sold or still in stock globally.
We will continue to build a safe and sustainable software ecosystem, in order to provide the best experience for all users globally.
The statement doesn’t tell us much about what route the company is taking going forward witj respect to Huawei Android phones, but there are two broad paths .
Create/Find Alternatives To Google Apps
Perhaps the easiest way to keep Huawei Android phones alive and well is for the Chinese giant to use Android Open Source Project, and find or create apps that can serve as effective alternatives to Google apps and pre-install them in their Android phones. It is no easy task, and it may be mission impossible, for all we care.
Many Chinese OEMS already use Android Open Source Project. Anyone can use it.
Huawei Has A Mobile OS Ready
Pre-empting a situation of this kind, Huawei has been working on its own mobile OS for some years now, and information is that it is ready for deployment. The development team was reportedly made up of a significant number of ex-Nokia employees. Will Huawei be going down that road now that the United States is pulling its weight?
But Huawei will have the same problems to deal with as with using Android Open Source. Will their mobile OS be able to sync Google Email, Contacts and Calendars, though? Does it have an alternative to Google Maps? These four services are key to millions of smartphone users around the world. The operating system needs to be able to cover these. If not, many users of Huawei Android phones will not switch over and the company will struggle.
If Huawei OS (we can call it that for now) is unable to provide these, the company will be able to thrive only in China. It will struggle to sell everywhere else.
Note also that Huawei’s mobile OS may actually be based on Android Open Source, so the two broad paths may converge into just one.
The US ban covers not only softwaere but hardware as well. As such, Broadcom, Intel and Qualcomm (all of them, chip makers) have been reported to have joined Google in banning uawei from using theior components. This won’t be a difficult one for Huawei Mobile, as it produces its own mobile chips through its subsidiary HiSilicon.
Finding a chip supplier for the company’s laptops will be a more difficult task. Also, Microsoft is yet to make a statement on whether or not it will comply with the US ban and lock out Huawei from using Windows OS.
The Need For Alternative Mobile Operating Systems
One thing is certain at this point: Huawei Android phones have to adapt or go away entirely.
I have been an advocate of alternative smartphone operating systems for years. This scenario that is playing out between The US government and Huawei reinforces my position. We not only need alternatives; we also need them to be from different regions around the world.
Right now, both major smartphone systems, Android and iOS, are American. The USA can screw things up for a lot of people at any point in time. Any of the other smartphone manufacturers can get the boot tomorrow – Samsung, OPPO, Xiaomi, Nokia, anyone of them.
How did we end up in a world where one country can determine the lives and livelihood of hundreds of millions of people this way? Samsung has been smart in developing their own chips and keeping Tizen OS in development. Like Huawei, they will be better able to weather a storm of this nature than most others.
Nokia would have been a rock for Europe. The company had a working mobile operating system, an alternative in development, as well as really good associated apps e.g. like Nokia Maps (now called HERE WeGo. Is that app still a thing? I will find out after clicking the Publish button on this post.
Monopolies are bad. And this situation here is a glaring example.
Are you a fan and/or user of Huawei Android phones? What are your reactions to this situation? What do you think Huawei can do to manage it? Should they give the US the middle finger and drop Android entirely for their own OS, or should they use Android open source?
Will you buy a smartphone running Huawei Mobile OS? Will you drop Huawei Android phones for other brands if they lack Google apps?
May 21st Update
US govt gives “stay of execution” for three months
The Financial Times reports that the US government has issued a 90-day “stay of execution” on the Huawei ban. This allows Huawei suppliers in the United States to sell parts and components “necessary to maintain and support existing and currently fully operational networks and equipment, including software updates and patches”, as well as carry out activities that are “necessary to provide service and support, including software updates or patches to existing Huawei handsets.”
Huawei founder responds
74-year old founder of Huawei, Ren Zhengfei, has responded to say that the 90-day stay is “is not that meaningful for the company, as it is well prepared and has kept its core technologies intact.” 
- US Department of Commerce: Department of Commerce Announces the Addition of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. to the Entity List.
- Twitter: Android On Twitter.
- The Verge: Intel and Qualcomm reportedly join Google in Huawei ban.
- Global Times: Huawei fully prepared, core tech intact: Ren