What Trump & Google's Bans Mean For Huawei Smartphone Owners

To say that Huawei didn't end last week on a high note would be one of the most severe understatements of the year so far. After a bipolar 2018 that saw it accomplish some tremendous success, including reaching the title of the second-largest smartphone company on the planet by overtaking Apple but also saw one of its top executives and a possible heir apparent arrested abroad as part of an international fraud ring crackdown, Huawei entered 2019 with a lot of uncertainty surrounding it.

While the developments in recent days certainly brought clarity to the firm, they only illustrated what the Chinese conglomerate can expect from the United States government moving forward.

If, however, you happen to be an owner of one or more Huawei-made smartphones or tablets, you probably feel unjustifiably caught in the political crossfire between Washington and Beijing. To be frank, Huawei appears to be feeling the same way, but it's not like it can do anything about the current situation, especially since it already won a reprieve from the U.S. government. Can you, though?

It's not as bad as it looks - yeah, really

Just to clarify the most important issue stemming from this entire ordeal - owners of Huawei devices running Android should not be affected by the newest developments in any significant way.

Yes, Google pulled its standard Android license devised for its OEM partners from Huawei but both due to the Apache 2.0 terms of the barebones operating system and the way software development works, as well as the fact there appears to be some common sense left in the industry, the move won't retroactively punish customers or businesses who chose to either work with the Chinese technology juggernaut or buy from it in recent times.

To put that in even simpler terms, if you happen to be one among the rare few American owners of either the P30 or P30 Pro, both of which launched this spring and technically work with some U.S. bands in case you're willing to import them, you won't suddenly lose access to the Play Store, Google Play Services, or any other app or app framework made by Alphabet's subsidiary. Yup, that means your Gmail is safe, your Keep and Drive will keep chugging along, and your Inbox... ah, no, wait, Google canceled that one before it could use it as leverage.

What's more, Huawei claims the executive order that essentially forbids Google from supplying it with either hardware or software licenses won't massively impact its ability to deliver timelity security patches to its existing devices. Now, this is a far more debatable vow but then again, it's not like Huawei doesn't have experience with making sense of Android's convoluted nature while trying to keep it updated on a sometime regular basis. The new turn of events should hence return you to the good old pre-Treble days which sucked, sure enough, but you can at least take some solace in the fact some poor development team will be working overtime to ensure your Huawei-made Android devices are as resistant to known security vulnerabilities as they can be given the circumstances. Come to think of it, that doesn't sound comforting at all but hey, blame Trump, I guess.

So, the situation as a whole is not as bad as it looks and could certainly be worse for those who already parted with their hard-earned money in exchange for a value-oriented phablet or something of the sort from Huawei's workshop.

It's still pretty bad, though

That isn't to say Huawei can continue chugging along with no major concerns; the firm that just barely surpassed Apple by both shipments and sales of mobile devices in 2018 and will almost certainly be losing the title of the world's second-largest smartphone company even if the newly emerged ordeal is resolved in a matter of weeks. The current consensus among industry watchers is that the prevalence of American technologies in high-end consumer electroncis solutions (like operating systems and bleeding-edge chips) means Huawei's global supply chain will likely be brought to its knees in a matter of days, so while the firm isn't in danger of banruptcy, it's also without a straightforward path toward getting out of the current predicament.

After all, Huawei is simply being used as leverage here and isn't even the only Chinese company to be caught in this trade dispute between two of the world's largest economies.

The bottom line is that while your existing devices from the Shenzen-based manufacturer should be fine and won't have their Google-made apps and services ripped out of them, while their future security updates are simply expected to be a few extra weeks slower to roll out than what's been the case in recent times, don't count on being able to import a new Huawei handset in the coming months. To be more specific, don't count on Huawei to be able to actually release anything you'd want to import until this international incident between the current U.S. administration and China's communist government is resolved.

Fewer choices certainly aren't good news for consumers, even when we're talking about companies who are not entirely blameless when it comes to clashes with Capitol Hill and the White House.

The first victim of the President Trump's latest executive order and subsequent blacklisting of Huawei is nothing other than the Mate X, a device that's both Huawei's first foldable smartphone and its premier handset capable of communicating with 5G networks. Well, or at least it was supposed to be, that is.

As a result of this utterly bizarre and harldy precedented turn of events, Samsung actually still appears to be ahead in the bendable smartphone race; even after shooting itself in the foot. In other words, tech enthusiasts who were looking forward to a seemingly superior and somehow more affordable alternative to jumping on the foldable phablet bandwagon this spring are pretty much out of luck.

Life after death's more likely than Android after Google

Huawei isn't just one of the best-equipped companies to deal with a crisis of this magnitude due to its sheer resources but it also may actually already have some infrastructure in place should it ever decide to go the route of releasing Android devices in the West without Google apps. After all, that's pretty much what it has been doing in its home country for years seeing how nearly every Google creation continues to be blocked by China, apps and mobile services included.

So, it's not like Huawei doesn't have experience in doing Google-less Android; as far as standalone, Google-free Android forks are concerned, EMUI is as far as any mainstream manufacturer went so far in terms of differentiation and just doing its own thing. That isn't to say Huawei phones that can't access the Play Store would sell well in the West. In fact, they'd probably do so poorly Huawei is unlikely to even attempt launching them. Sure, you have the odd tech afficionado that would actually be happy to use Android free of Google without the hassle of modding a modern, probably locked-down smartphone like your humble author here but Huawei is a mainstream manufacturer and the only thing it's interested in is mass appeal.

Cynics posting on social media about how this is actually a good thing for people who dislike Google but are a fan of Android will hence probably look silly real soon; not that they already aren't to some.

One silver lining that's undeniable is that Google may not be gauging your smartphone usage data as accurately and creepily as it would on handsets that don't come from Huawei or its subsidiary Honor following last week's blacklisting. However, that's something the company isn't expected to officially confirm anytime soon.

Uncertainty's the new name of the game

Everything stated above is pretty much guaranteed but one giant unknown is what happens next; it's not like the Trump administration's attempts to bully foreign countries, allied and otherwise, into doing what they want them to do have been particularly fruitful so far seeing how they comically backfired more often than not, yet let's also not pretend the current U.S. President gave the world much reason to believe effectiveness is high on his list of priorities.

So, assuming this situation doesn't get resolved in the near future, it wouldn't be inconceivable to see Huawei splash its cash reserves on an actual Android alternative. After all, the company's subsidiary HiSilicon already has the chip part of the smartphone equation figured out, as evidenced by its mid-range and high-end Kirin lineups.

Making a viable mobile ecosystem is a different task altogether, of course, given how the lack of apps is a major turn-off to pretty much any type of consumer but who knows what Huawei will do at this point. One thing is certainm though: any beast is at its most dangerous when cornered and the world of technology hasn't seen many corporate beasts larger than Huawei, so whatever happens next, it's extremely unlikely the company will just resign to having its business model crippled without a fight. In fact, it's a big "if" whether the firm even agrees to wait for China's government to attempt fixing things. That's what Beijing did last year when ZTE was in trouble but Huawei is neither a state-controlled company on paper (cynics would ask what the difference is, and they'd kind of have a point) nor is it so reliant on third-party suppliers to run its business.

The bottom line is that even if Huawei appears to have plenty of resources to fight against the effects of the latest blow it received from Washington, you really shouldn't be planning your next smartphone purchase with this particular brand in mind.

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About the Author
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Dominik Bosnjak

Senior Writer
Dominik started at AndroidHeadlines in 2016. He’s approaching his first full decade in the media industry, with his background being primarily in technology, gaming, and entertainment. These days, his focus is more on the political side of the tech game, as well as data privacy issues, with him looking at both of those through the prism of Android. Contact him at [email protected]