At Huawei’s annual developer conference in China last week, the Chinese tech company officially unveiled its Android alternative, named HarmonyOS.
The operating system has been in the works for a few years but Huawei reportedly stepped up development in order to replace its reliance on the Google-owned Android, following the US trade ban that was installed a few months ago.
At first, HarmonyOS is only going to be available on “smart screen products”, including a range of Honor smart TVs, so not smartphones just yet.
In a press release, Huawei says that “for the time being” it continues to use Android on its phones – a hint that the upcoming Huawei Mate 30 Pro smartphone will run Android.
The US trade ban has had major implications for Huawei so far from the launch of HarmonyOS, to drops in sales across the world. Here’s everything you need to know about the Huawei 5G saga and the Google ban so far.
What is the Google Huawei ban about?
In the past, the Chinese tech giant has been accused by President Trump’s administration of stealing trade secrets, fraud and violating US sanctions against Iran, claims which have led the US president to ban Huawei’s equipment from US networks in an effort to protect national security.
As a result, Google was forced to pull Huawei’s Android license. This is the operating system that powers the majority of the world’s phones, aside from the Apple iPhone.
Other companies are affected by the executive order, including chip designers ARM and Qualcomm. Last week, Qualcomm said its sales fell in the previous quarter partly as a result of not being allowed to sell to the Chinese firm.
Things looked like they were about to turnaround though, with a Reuters report a few weeks ago stating that US companies may be able to kick start their sales process with Huawei soon. This follows reports a few weeks ago about Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross saying the US administration will issue licenses for US companies that want to do business with Huawei “where there is no threat to national security.”
However, Trump has a plan to instigate a new 10 per cent tariff on $300 billion worth of Chinese goods from September 1, which is effectively a tax on all goods from China that come into the US according to CNN.
If this goes ahead, it looks like the US-China trade war is still very much in effect, with companies like Huawei stuck in the middle.
What did the Google Huawei ban mean for Huawei phone users?
The ban hasn’t affected current Huawei smartphones and devices. Google has said the Google Play Store, the Android app store through which Android device owners get their links to the outside world, and the security features which come with Android, will continue to be available on existing Huawei devices.
However, it looks like anything the company releases in the future, such as the upcoming Mate 30 range, which is slated for an October release, could lose access to crucial Android services, including Google Play, Maps and the Gmail app.
Following news of the block, Huawei said many of its devices would be able to access Android Q – the next version of Google’s phone software due to launch later this year – and would continue to receive other updates without interruption.
A few weeks ago, the company’s UK managing director insisting “nothing has changed” for the company, and that customers “do not have to worry.”
Huawei phones not affected by the Google ban
- Huawei P30: P30 Pro, P30, P30 Lite
- Huawei P Smart
- Huawei Mate 20: Mate 20 Pro, Mate 20, Mate 20 Lite, Mate 20 X
- Huawei P20: P20 Pro, P20, P20 Lite
- Huawei Mate 10: Mate 10 Pro, Mate 10, Mate 10 Lite
- Huawei P10: P10 Plus, P10, P10 Lite
Is the Google Huawei ban over?
All signs are starting to point to the end of Huawei’s troubles. Last week, reports suggested US firms will be able to apply for licenses to trade with the tech giant, whilst the latest news suggests this could happen in as soon as two weeks.
The relaxation of the ban followed a meeting between Chinese president Xi Jinping and US president Donald Trump. Two US chipmakers told Reuters they were looking to apply for more licenses following the comments.
However, this doesn’t mean that Huawei is completely out of the woods yet. A White House representative said the recently relaxed restrictions would be temporary, however, and that negations between the US and the tech firm “will resume” in a few months.
What about Huawei in the UK?
There were concerns about whether or not Huawei’s 5G technology would be allowed to build the country’s new 5G infrastructure. The tech firm is already involved in building 5G networks in six of the seven cities in the UK where Vodafone has gone live. It is also assisting in developing 5G sites for EE and Three.
In July, the UK’s Science and Technology Committee said there were no “technical grounds” to exclude Huawei from the UK’s 5G, but did suggest that the government needs to consider the impact of using Huawei’s tech on its relationship with major allies, such as the US.
Norman Lamb, Chair of the Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee said: “We have found no evidence from our work to suggest that the complete exclusion of Huawei from the UK’s telecommunications networks, would, from a technical point of view, constitute a proportionate response to the potential threat posed by foreign suppliers.”
He added: “The conclusion is restricted to technical considerations. There may well be geopolitical or ethical grounds for the Government to decide to enact a ban on Huawei’s equipment.”
In response to the report, Victor Zhang, President of Global Affairs at Huawei, said: “We note the key conclusion from the Science and Technology committee letter, which states ‘There are no technical grounds for excluding Huawei entirely from the UK’s 5G or other telecommunication networks.
“And it also says ‘we have found no evidence from our work to suggest that the complete exclusion of Huawei from the UK’s telecommunications networks would, from a technical point of view, constitute a proportionate response.
“We assured that the UK, unlike others, is taking an evidence-based approach to network security. Huawei complies with the laws and regulations in all the markets where we operate.”
The US trade ban is taking its toll on Huawei
Even though the US trade list ban may almost be over, it appears the bad headlines have started to affect Huawei’s sales in the UK.
According to data by Kantar, Huawei’s smartphone sales fell by two per cent between the first quarter and second quarter of 2019. By comparison, the company had a market share of 9.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2018, growing to 15.7 per cent in early 2019, so whilst the new figures are still higher than last year, it demonstrates that the Huawei surge is slowing down.
In addition, Huawei’s sub-brand Honor appears to be falling too, from 3.9 per cent market share of sales in the second quarter of last year down to 2.3 per cent now.
Commenting on the figures, Kantar’s consumer insights director Dominic Sunnebo said: “Q2 2019 saw Huawei endure a number of large setbacks resulting from being placed on the US Entity list, but despite this it finished the quarter up vs. 12 months earlier.
“There are signs Huawei owners are putting off upgrading – likely waiting for clarity on the future situation. If this continues to be the case and the dispute is resolved it might mean that the majority of sales are delayed rather than lost to competitors, but the speed at which a resolution is found will determine this.”
In comparison, Kantar believes Chinese rival Xiaomi, which entered the UK last November for the first time, and Samsung will be able to pick up the Huawei slack. Xiaomi has grown its market sales slice from 0.7 per cent last year to 2.1 per cent now, meaning it is close to overtaking Honor.
A few week’s ago, Huawei‘s 5G device, the Mate 20 X 5G, was finally on sale in the UK after network operators initially pulled the smartphone from their lineups. One of the first 5G devices to be announced, the Mate 20 X 5G was removed from the 5G phone offerings from the likes of EE following the trade ban.
However, the Huawei 5G phone has been restored following leniency in the trade ban, and it is now available to buy from Three, Sky Mobile and the Carphone Warehouse.
How could an Android ban affect the future of smartphones?
Huawei is championed as one of the most innovative smartphone brands, often showcasing its design and technical prowess at various keynote events around the world.
This is how the company has managed to go from a largely obscure Chinese brand to one of the biggest phone makers in the world, selling 59.1 million phones in the first quarter of 2019.
With the development of its own OS, it’s likely that regardless of whether Huawei is lifted from the Department of Commerce’s blacklist, the company will strike out on its own.
Nonetheless, the ban could have implications for the future of things like smartphone design. Take, or instance, the Huawei Mate X, the company’s folding phone. Google has been working with both Huawei and Samsung to create the next version of Android that works well on folding phones.
By ending this close relationship, future smartphone design will certainly be affected.