Huawei sent a statement to Ars Technica and others about the ban, saying “Huawei will continue to provide security updates and after-sales services to all existing Huawei and Honor smartphone and tablet products, covering those that have been sold and that are 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.”
Google issued only a terse one-liner, saying “We are complying with the order and reviewing the implications.” On Twitter, the company’s official Android account was a bit friendlier, saying “For Huawei users’ questions regarding our steps to comply w/ the recent US government actions: We assure you while we are complying with all US gov’t requirements, services like Google Play & security from Google Play Protect will keep functioning on your existing Huawei device.”
Meanwhile, other US companies have started to cut off Huawei, with Bloomberg reporting that Intel, Qualcomm, Broadcom, and Xilinx have stopped supplying chips to Huawei. Intel is a big one, as it means Huawei laptops are pretty much dead. Bloomberg also reports that Huawei apparently saw this ban coming, and has stockpiled three months worth of chips from US companies.
To add to all the drama, Huawei has a smartphone launch scheduled for tomorrow, where it will launch the flagship Honor 20 smartphone for its value-focused “Honor” brand. As of this writing, it seems the launch will go ahead as scheduled.
President Trump issued an executive order last week banning “foreign adversaries” from doing telecommunication business in the US. The move was widely understood as a ban on Huawei products, and now we’re starting to see the fallout. According to a report from Reuters, Google has “suspended” business with Huawei, and the company will be locked out of Google’s Android ecosystem. It’s the ZTE ban all over again.
Huawei’s loss of access “to updates” is most likely a reference to Android Q, which hardware manufacturers get early access to. Since Android is open source, Huawei could resume development once the source code comes out. The real killer is the loss of the Google Play Store and Google Play Services, which unlocks access to the billions of Android apps and popular Google apps like Gmail and Maps. Reuters claims this will only happen to “the next version” of Huawei’s smartphones, presumably meaning existing devices with the Play Store will continue to work.
Huawei doesn’t do much smartphone business in the US, so banning Huawei from selling phones to US consumers won’t change much. Huawei has made a few attempts to break into the US market, but pressure from Congress on Huawei’s individual business partners, like AT&T and Verizon, have caused them to walk away from deals with the company. Besides smartphones, Huawei is also one of the biggest suppliers of network and telecom equipment in the world, and this ban will keep the company’s routers, towers, and other equipment out of US networks. An earlier Reuters report detailed the problem the ban would cause in rural states like Wyoming and Oregon, which have adopted Huawei equipment.
The real change here is the banning of US companies from supplying Huawei with software and hardware. Outside of China, this move is a death sentence for Huawei smartphones in places like Europe and India. There isn’t a single viable alternative to Google’s Android ecosystem, so Google-less Huawei smartphones would have a tough time in the market. The only company that has sort of made Google-less Android work is Amazon, which sells forked Android tablets that are so cheap and disposable they come in a six-pack. Amazon is also a US company, though, so the Amazon App Store presumably wouldn’t be available to Huawei, either.
In Huawei’s home nation of China, not much will change. Google doesn’t do much business in China, so the Play Store and Google Play Services do not exist there. The app store landscape is pretty fragmented as a result, with most OEMs running their own app store or licensing a third-party app store from other Chinese companies like Tencent or 360 Mobile.
When ZTE faced a similar ban from doing business in the US last year, the company was forced to shut down worldwide operations. According to Reuters, 25 percent of ZTE’s smartphone components come from the US, and the one-two punch of being banned from Google’s Android app ecosystem and from buying Qualcomm’s smartphone chips was too much for the company. Huawei is a lot bigger than ZTE, though, and more independent. Qualcomm has a near-monopoly on high-end Android SoCs and cellular connectivity technology, but Huawei is one of two Android manufacturers (the other is Samsung) with its own chip design division. Huawei flagships all have SoCs from Huawei’s “HiSilicon” chip division, and the company even makes its own 5G modems.
If the ban really does stick, a possible future path for Huawei is to ship forked, Google-less versions of Android with the Huawei App Store, extending its Chinese app ecosystem to the rest of the world. Huawei has also done some development work on an in-house operating system, but it’s unclear if this would be a better option than forking Android. Huawei is the number two smartphone vendor in the world, behind Samsung and ahead of Apple, and saw its device shipments grow by an explosive 50 percent, year over year. Whatever decision it makes is a big deal for Google and the rest of the Android ecosystem.