KUALA LUMPUR, May 22 ― On Sunday, the technology world was shocked with news that Huawei was denied access to some of Google’s services including receiving updates for Android, access to Google apps and the Google Play Store.
The situation has improved somewhat since then. The Chinese technology giant has been given some respite with the US government easing restrictions temporarily for the next 90 days to minimise disruptions on Huawei’s customers.
What happens beyond the 90 days is still everyone’s guess. It has to be said that it is within the best interest of all the parties involved for the situation to de-escalate the situation and Huawei to be allowed to resume its relations with American companies as normal.
But the question that everyone is asking, what would happen if Huawei no longer makes Android smartphones?
Let’s be clear, this is a very unlikely situation but what if?
How will existing Huawei users be affected?
While this announcement might worry current Huawei users outside of China, Google has confirmed that Huawei users have little to worry about for now.
Google Play and the security protections from Google Play Protect will continue to function on existing Huawei devices, Google told us.
However, if the restrictions come into full effect, Huawei will only be able to use the public version of Android, available through the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), and will not have access to Google’s proprietary apps and services including the very vital regular security patches.
In this full-restrictions scenario, future Huawei smartphones that run on Android will lose access to popular services, services that we expect to be available in our smartphones like the Google Play Store, Gmail, Google Maps, Waze and YouTube.
For now, Huawei will continue to provide security updates and services for its smartphones and tablets.
How about future Huawei users?
At the moment, it can be assumed that the development of future Huawei devices will be slowed down by this while China and the US sort things out.
In the worst-case scenario, should the restrictions come into full effect, future Huawei devices may no longer have the full-fat version of Android and along with it access to Google apps such as YouTube, Maps and Gmail.
Why can’t Huawei users just download these apps from the Play Store, you ask? Well, first of all, these apps are not covered by the open source licence and as the apps get updated, they will require you to run the latest version of Android in order to work. You can see how this can get very complicated.
There is, of course, the possibility of sideloading Android apps into your Huawei device. This involves manually downloading and manually installing an Android app (Google Maps for example) from the many websites that provide the installation files.
But the problem here is security. It would be difficult to verify if the installation files are secure and free of malware. You will also have to manually download and sideload updated versions of the app. Imagine doing this for the many essential Google apps that you need and it quickly becomes unmanageable.
Huawei has said it is working on its own operating system (known as HongMeng) but history has shown us that it is virtually impossible to break the iOS-Android grip on mobile operating systems at the moment.
The might of BlackBerry, Nokia, Microsoft and even Samsung have tried and failed to do so, would Huawei suffer the same fate or will it usher in a new period of mobile operating systems where three players can play in the same field? The only way to know for sure is for Huawei to go ahead and do it.
Why is this happening?
Huawei is the world’s largest supplier of telecommunications network equipment and second-largest smartphone manufacturer. The company is what I would consider collateral damage in the ever-escalating trade war between the US and China.
We know that the US President has a personal endeavour to impede China’s march to become a bonafide global superpower. Both countries are vying for control in the crucial technologies that will shape the future, namely in artificial intelligence, semiconductors and automotive, and Donald Trump is having none of it.
He recently told Fox News that he was “very happy” with the trade war with China, and that he was not going to let it become the world’s “top superpower” under his watch.
Meanwhile, Beijing is keeping close tabs on developments and I would think that their interest is to not let Huawei fail.
What about us consumers then? Well if the restrictions succeed in stopping Huawei from manufacturing Android smartphones, realistically speaking, we would just move to the next available option either from Samsung or even Apple.
But in the grand scheme of things, what would this mean to the global technology industry? Well, if Donald Trump succeeds in stopping Huawei and by extension China by means of restrictions, what other company is next? ― SoyaCincau