Is there life for Huawei after Google ban?

May 21, 2019 13:47
Huawei will find Google's action a huge roadblock to its global ambitions. Photo: Reuters

Google dropped a bombshell on Monday by announcing that it will no longer provide support to upcoming smartphones of Huawei Technologies, in line with a US government order placing the Chinese telecommunications equipment giant on a trade blacklist.

The move is seen as a big blow to Huawei, which is now the world's second-largest smartphone brand.

Many Huawei smartphone users were initially taken aback by the announcement, but it soon became clear that they will still have access to Google, Google Play, Gmail, YouTube and the Chrome browser, as well as their updates. 

However, such apps, which are available for downloading at Google Store, may no longer be available for future models of Huawei smartphones.

Later on Monday, the US Commerce Department eased some of the restrictions on Huawei, apparently to allow third parties, especially US companies, to maintain their existing networks and facilities that use Huawei equipment, as well as fulfill contractual obligations with the Chinese company. The reprieve is good only for 90 days, or until Aug. 19.

Still, the blacklist could have a huge impact on Huawei, which is aggressively pursuing its expansion overseas.

The question is, will Huawei be able to survive without depending on Google and other US companies that supply the crucial software and other components that its business need?

The Google move could spell disaster for Huawei, but it could also provide the impetus for the Chinese company to develop its own operating system for its products.

In the short run, the US blacklist could jeopardize all its plans for launching new Honor,  Mate, and P models, and that will surely have an impact on its revenue.

Although Washington is saying that the move on Huawei is not connected with its current trade conflict with Beijing, not too many people will believe that it isn't a part of its efforts to recalibrate its relations with China.

Be that as it may, the escalating trade tensions between the world's two largest economies offer a chance for China to stand on its own, pursue efforts to survive and prevail in the battlefield of technology and innovation despite the lack of cooperation of the western world, and even its outright resistance.

For its part, Huawei will find the US action a huge roadblock on the road to its global ambitions. But it is also an unavoidable challenge – an opportunity, in fact – to build its own ecosystem for its smartphones and other products.

Many Huawei customers can attest to the excellent performance of its smartphones, for instance, which can hold their own against the best competing products in the market. 

It is this huge global market that it has developed, and is continuing to develop, that will ultimately spell its success or failure in the global arena. 

Huawei can leverage on the users of the 200 million devices its sells each year globally and offer them products that will no longer rely on western software and operating systems.

In fact, the 100 million smartphones it sells in China every year run on its EMUI operating system, which is based on the open-source Android platform, which doesn't come with any Google mobile services such as Gmail, YouTube and Google Drive software.

Huawei users could still enjoy Google services using their smartphone browser.

But Android, though open-sourced, is still backed by Google. In order to avoid further inconveniences and setbacks that could result from using Google products, Huawei is reportedly developing its own smartphone operating system to totally replace the Android structure.

Chinese media said the new system is called Hongmeng, which is based on the open-source Linux platform, and it could be available soon on Huawei devices.

The problem with this is that it may not be compatible with Android apps. And if that is the case, users will simply avoid buying Huawei models and turn to other Android smartphones.

The absence of Google access means Huawei is no longer the same as the other Android smartphones offered by such brands as Samsung, LG, Sony, and even Chinese peers like Xiaomi, Vivo, OPPO and OnePlus. All these phones that are being sold outside China come with Google mobile services.

The P30 smartphone series helped make Huawei the world's second-largest smartphone brand, surpassing Apple and closely pursuing Samsung.

The suspension of business with Google could affect the launch of the next flagship Mate series, which is scheduled before the Christmas shopping season. Huawei, however, is scheduled to host a press event in London on Tuesday night, when it is expected to unveil its latest Honor flagship.

Huawei told TechRadar that it will continue to provide security updates and after-sales services to all existing Huawei and Honor smartphone and tablet products, including the latest devices to be unveiled at the London event.

Huawei reportedly shipped some 200 million smartphones last year, about half of which were sold overseas. That's about 180 billion yuan (US$14.49 billion) in revenue.

In order to protect what it has accomplished so far and maintain its growth, Huawei must develop a new operating system that is compatible with Android or, alternatively, build its own system, invite developers to provide apps for the new platform, and hope that its entire ecosystem will be good enough to convince users to support it.

That won’t be an easy task. But if Huawei can achieve that goal, it can proudly proclaim that it is offering the world a truly Chinese brand.

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EJ Insight writer