Will your Huawei phone stop working because of Google blocking Huawei and how does it impact the UK?
Huawei has been struck with the most consequential legal action the technology world has seen in some time. Billion-dollar law suits between tech giants are fairly common, pebbles thrown in a pond. But after this Huawei news, however, there’s now a crater where the pond used to sit.
The US government has put Huawei on a blacklist of companies barred from the products and services of US companies. Google is a US company, and the 200-million-plus phones Huawei shipped last year use Google’s Android. This has lead Google to revoke Huawei’s Android license in order to comply with the US Commerce Department.
Huawei will no longer have access to Android apart from AOSP, the Android Open Source Project. This doesn’t require a license. Huawei can simply use it.
However, this is the skeleton on which the bulk of Android hangs. It’s a plate, not a meal. It’s a foundation, not a building. Gmail, Google Maps, the Play Store, Google Assistant, Chrome, Play Music, YouTube, Fit, Drive, Docs and other Google services may all be out of bounds for Huawei going forward.
And with Qualcomm, Broadcom and Intel set to follow Google in adhering to the US administration’s order, Huawei could be in even bigger trouble. But what does this mean for the average phone buyer?
Will my Huawei phone stop work
If you already own a Huawei phone, or one from sister brand Honor, it is unlikely to receive any further major Android updates.
This news arrived just a handful of days after Huawei confirmed an Android Q update for recent phones including the Huawei P30 Pro, Mate 20 Pro and Honor View 20. The Huawei Mate 20 Pro was even part of the Android Q Beta programme. At the time of writing, the phone is still listed on Google’s Android Developer website.
This news is particularly bleak for those who spent £900 on a Huawei P30 Pro. But it could be even worse.
Google has confirmed it will not block security and app updates for existing Huawei devices. “We assure you while we are complying with all US gov’t requirements, services like Google Play and security from Google Play Protect will keep functioning on your existing Huawei device,” the official Android Twitter account wroteon Sunday May 19.
The worst-case scenario for Huawei and Honor phone owners would be an instant and irrevocable block of all Google services. You wouldn’t be able to run Google Play, or open Gmail. This has not happened, as such phones have already been granted a license by Google.
However, it is also not clear if Huawei and Honor owners will be able to update apps such as Gmail and Maps in the future. Google updates these apps frequently. Maps was last updated on May 16, Google Docs on May 7.
Should anyone buy a Huawei or Honor phone?
The severity of the restrictions imposed on Huawei make it impossible to recommend buying a Huawei or Honor phone at present. Well, unless you live in China where these phones already run alternative services, as Google’s own are banned.
Huawei and Honor released a joint statement that, while understandably vague, tries to placate owners a little. “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,” the statement says.
The company confirmed it will continue to provide security updates and after-sales services to existing Huawei and Honor smartphone and tablet products. This includes those that have been sold and those in stock in shops.
“We will continue to build a safe and sustainable software ecosystem, in order to provide the best experience for all users globally,” the company says.
What happens now?
The timing is particularly uncomfortable for sister brand Honor, which plans to launch a high-end phone on Tuesday May 21. An Honor representative told us the launch will still go ahead, but in what form it will present the phone is hard to fathom, given the impact of this ruling.
Huawei had some idea these measures would arrive, though. According to Bloomberg, the company has a three-month stockpile of components, which are also affected by the ban. Some Huawei phones use Qualcomm processors, for example. Its laptops use Intel processors.
And even the HiSilicon CPUs in top-end Androids are not 100 per cent China designed and manufactured. They use ARM-designed components. ARM Holdings is a British company owned by the Japanese SoftBank Group. While these are not directly affected by the US government’s order, the magnitude of its effects could see Huawei consolidate as an all-Chinese operation.
A report from 2016 suggests Huawei was, or is, developing a proprietary alternative to Android. Samsung tried with the Bada and Tizen mobile operating systems, but today you will only find Tizen in Samsung wearables like the Galaxy Watch.
However, if the US company ban cannot be resolved, a “fork” of the Android AOSP may be more likely. In this case, Huawei will supply the app store, and its phones’ software services, but continue to use Android as the root of the system. This gives Huawei phones a very different, and less palatable, outlook.