What can Huawei do without Android?
Google is suspending support, but Huawei is rumored to have a backup OS
Google’s Android is breaking up with Huawei. The US has blacklisted Huawei from dealing with US companies on national security grounds, which threatens the existence of apps like Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube or even the Google Play Store on Huawei devices.
We may find out how this will play out for Huawei smartphone buyers sooner than we think. The Chinese company is going ahead with plans to launch sub-brand Honor's 20 Series on Tuesday in London, according to the South China Morning Post.
If you own a Huawei, it should be able to work as usual. The smartphones use the open source Android operating system. However, the ban means future Huawei handsets won’t have access to Google Mobile Services, which includes Google’s most popular apps and APIs.
This is already normal in China, which Google left back in 2010 and where all the company’s services were blocked in 2014.
“As Google services are not available in China, the short-term impact is small for the Chinese market,” said Xi Wang, research manager at IDC China. “But for international users, apps like Gmail, Google Maps, Google Play Store, YouTube… will not be available, which is absolutely a huge impact for them.”
Half of Huawei's smartphone shipments last year went to users outside of China. In Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the company's smartphones now make up more than a fifth of the market, according to IDC data. It also makes up a quarter of the EMEA Android market, but losing access to Google services could be critical.
Going forward, the international version of Huawei’s Android-based EMUI may not provide the best user experience and could have security issues, according to Xi.
The ban also means users may not be able to update to the next version of the OS, Android Q, which is already in beta and could be released in August. Even with access to Android’s open source code, Huawei wouldn’t be able to include Google’s suite of apps.
However, if you already have your hands on the newest P30 or P30 Pro or other Huawei handset, fret not. The Google Play app store and security protections will continue to work normally, but only for existing Huawei device users, Google explained.
Users dedicated to buying future Huawei devices may have to wait for a unique solution from the company. And it’s possible Huawei already has one. Richard Yu, head of the company’s consumer division, confirmed in March that Huawei has its own operating system ready.
“Should it ever happen that we can no longer use these systems, we would be prepared,” Yu told German newspaper Die Welt. “That's our Plan B. But, of course, we prefer to work with the ecosystems of Google and Microsoft.”
This operating system might be called Hong Meng, according to Chinese media, taking its name from Chinese mythology. Huawei hasn’t confirmed it, but the name of the OS circulated on Chinese microblogging platform Weibo in what appears to be a photograph of a PowerPoint presentation dating back all the way to 2012.
Little else is known about the OS -- such as how compatible it may or me not be with existing apps. Huawei may be on its way to becoming the world's biggest smartphone maker, but building up an entire ecosystem of apps just for its own OS would be a tall order.
Still, Huawei still might get a short reprieve. On Friday, the US Department of Commerce said it may ease some restrictions on Huawei by issuing a temporary license. The 90-day license gives Huawei's existing customers time to ensure their communications networks and equipment are working reliably before the company is barred from servicing them.