Unless you’re a Nokia 3310 user who’s SMSing your friends a “Happy Vesak Day” four-line message (only to realise that 2G doesn’t work), then you’d have known about the Huawei-Google saga that’s sending shockwaves all over the world, including China.
And for people who’re using Apple and wonder what’s all the big hoo-ha all about, or Samsung users who’re laughing at the Huawei show-offs who were zooming into their pimples, they might be wondering why there’s a ban on Google services on Huawei, and wonder whether it’ll impact Samsung as well.
Well, wonder no more as we simplify what’s happened—because that’s what we do best.
Huawei’s Software in China & Outside China
Before anything, you’ve got to understand what Huawei does.
We all know that it makes smartphones, but a device without software is essentially a brick. iPhone uses its own operating system iOS and Samsung uses Android as its OS.
Huawei, in China, uses Android as its OS as well, but for its app store, there are many choices: people can download apps via app stores like Tencent Myapp, Huawei App Market or 360 Mobile Assistant.
As they’re still running on Android, the codes are written in Java as well, so they’re essentially the same as the Android app we use; the only difference is that each app must be approved by the Chinese authorities before they can be in any of the China app stores.
And as we know, over in Singapore, Huawei uses Android as its OS and we’ve only one app store: the Google Play Store. The only approval developers need is from Google Play Store.
And here’s the thing: Android is an open-source OS, so there’s no commercial agreement to use it. Anyone can use it; in fact, your SmartTV might be running on Android.
However, Google would usually have a stable (and well-tested) Android update for current phones running on Andriod. If Huawei has no agreement with Google, they might not receive this update in real-time and would have to wait for Google to release this new update to the public before Huawei users can update it.
So, what leads to this entire fiasco?
Huawei in the US’s Crosshairs for Years
The relationship between Huawei and the US Government has been on the rocks since 2010. Back then, US intelligence officials have begun warning agencies, then companies, that Huawei is spying for the Chinese government.
However, in 2012, an investigation concluded that they couldn’t find any evidence linking Huawei and the Chinese Government, but Huawei did not disclose details about their dealings with the Chinese military or intelligence services.
That was when Huawei allegedly decided to start a Plan B and worked on their own OS lest the worst (like what happened yesterday) occur.
Over the next few years, Huawei and the US Government crossed swords several times. Early last year, the FCC in the US banned Huawei devices from US telcos, so their phones are only available without a contract.
And it doesn’t help that late last year, Huawei’s Chief Finance Officer was arrested in Canada to face charges by the US for circumventing US sanctions on Iran (i.e. selling to Iran).
Now, before you can understand more, you’d need to know about sanctions and how countries are fighting against each other nowadays.
What are Sanctions?
In the past, when Country A isn’t happy with Country B, they bring up their invasion force and invade the country.
But now, it’s different.
To attack, one merely needs to put sanctions on the country. What are sanctions? Basically, you don’t trade with the country and get other countries not to trade with her, too.
Take, for example, North Korea: sanctions were imposed on them unless they disarm their nuclear arsenal. Without imports of, say, food, North Korea’s population would suffer.
And it’s not just food; it could be anything.
So you can see why Huawei’s CFO was arrested; sanctions were imposed on Iran but she allegedly still sold to them.
Trump’s Executive Order
For months, people have speculated that Trump’s going to sign an Executive Order that gives the Government power to block US companies from buying foreign-made telecommunications equipment if there is a national security risk.
So, what’s an Executive Order?
To put it in the simplest form, it’s a temporary “law” set by the executive branch of the US Government. You see, over in the US (and any other countries), laws cannot anyhowly be changed; they need to go through Congress and a voting process.
However, when there are emergencies that require a law to be implemented fast, the executive branch (i.e. White House, i.e. the President) can sign an Executive Order to ensure that the country is run smoothly.
While this Executive Order is broad, many see it as a target towards Huawei, and with the recent ban by Google, you can bet it most probably is.
Together with the Executive Order, Huawei is added into the Entity List: it’s basically a list of blacklisted companies that require approval from the US Government if it wants to buy anything from US companies.
In other words, simply put, Huawei isn’t just in the crosshairs anymore: shots are fired le.
Then What About Other China smartphone brands?
Before Huawei, we’ve powerhouses like the thin Oppo and the affordable Xiaomi.
Why aren’t they affected?
Just like Huawei, their software ecosystem is similar, but they’ve never been in the US’s crosshairs before. As the Executive Order is rather general (it didn’t even list down “China”, but “foreign adversaries”), it can be used on any brands, even Samsung.
The other China brands (except for ZTE) have no issue with the US Government so far, so it’s safe to say that they won’t be affected.
How Would It Affect Us?
You see, the thing is that for Huawei to work, it needs its software.
Android can still be used, but the update would be a lot slower than, say, Samsung or Xiaomi, since they get the latest version direct from Google, while Huawei would need to get it publicly.
As Huawei has a commercial agreement with Google to distribute their apps and Google Play Store, this agreement might be void, which means Google apps (like YouTube or Gmail) can’t be used, and Google Play Store can’t be installed in the phone.
Current Huawei phones would still have them, but it’s unknown what the future lies for new phones. Also, it’s unclear whether the current phones would continue to allow the updates of Google apps and services in the future. Google’s and Huawei’s response have been rather ambiguous, probably because they’re still working out a win-win solution.
Nothing has been confirmed yet, so don’t sell your phone…yet.
We’re in Singapore, Can’t Google Work with Huawei in Our Country?
Good and valid question.
Huawei’s issue with Google is due to a US policy, so why can’t Google just come over to another country, say the UK, and continue an agreement?
But here’s the thing: the main Google Play Store and Google apps are based in the US. That means we’d have to re-download another Google Play Store that’s catered to our countries—which could be one solution, but that means an entirely new ecosystem altogether, isn’t it?
If so, why not have a new OS or a new App Store for Huawei, instead of still depending on Google?
Huawei: Hold my beer.
Huawei’s New OS
According to media reports before this incident, Huawei has expected this day, and had already developed their own OS, reportedly called HongMeng (sounds like your friend’s name but anyways).
It’s unknown whether it’s merely an Android repackaged with a new name or a completely new OS altogether. However, to prevent disruption, there’s a high chance that it’s merely a repackaged Android, which means app developers won’t need to code their current apps in a new language, but merely make a few changes.
While the new OS could have its own app store, Google apps like YouTube or Gmail won’t be able to work in it as they’ve no commercial agreement with Huawei.
But would it work?
Samsung Tried It Before
Back in 2015, Samsung had already seen the power of Google and had created their own OS called Tizen. Just like Android, it’s also an open-source software with an app store called Tizen Store, but let’s face it: is anyone of you using Tizen OS?
While it’s still been updated, it’s used mainly for other devices like their smartwatches.
In an unexpected move, the US is now delaying the Huawei ban for 90 days, until 19 August 2019. A former Commerce Department official suggested that it “appears the intention is to limit unintended impacts on third parties who use Huawei equipment or systems…It seems they’re trying to prevent network blackouts.”
As of now, there has still been no response from Google or Huawei about this latest move. Whether this is to allow more time for Google to work on a better solution or for Huawei to work on switching its OS is up for anyone’s guess.
In the meantime, if you’re still holding on to a Huawei phone, you might just want to sit tight and wait for more news.
Because the smartphone world is definitely going to go through a drastic change in the new few months.
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