A bad month has just gotten a whole lot worse for Huawei. According to a Reuters report and confirmed by the two companies, Google is preparing to cut off the China-based smartphone maker’s Android license, preventing future Huawei phones (such as the upcoming Mate 30) from using the Play Store and Google’s popular apps and services.

The bombshell comes just days after President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order barring U.S. companies from using telecommunications equipment made by firms that “pose a national security risk.” While the order didn’t single out Huawei, the Commerce Department simultaneously added Huawei to its Entity List, effectively banning the smartphone maker from buying parts and components from U.S. companies without explicit government approval. Together, the two moves make it extremely difficult for any U.S. company to do business with Huawei.

Hence Google’s quick decision. The company assured Huawei users that updates would still be supplied for 90 days and said in a statement that it is merely “complying with the order and reviewing the implications,” but the stakes couldn’t be higher. When the dust clears, it might not be just Huawei that’s forever changed: Google, Android, and the entire smartphone landscape could be indelibly altered as well.

Many options, few answers

If Google pulls Huawei’s Android license, that will obviously have a huge impact on both current and future Huawei handsets. While the contract doesn’t affect the core OS, which is covered by the Android Open Source Project and free for anyone to use, Google charges for use of the Play Store and its application suite (Gmail, Maps, YouTube, etc.) for phones shipped to Europe.

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huawei boothHuawei booth in MWC 2018

Huawei has several paths in a post-Google phone, but none of them will be easy.

Because basically all smartphone makers peddle their wares in Europe, the loss of that license is a serious problem. Huawei basically has three options going forward:

  • Keep the existing EMUI framework, but eliminate all traces of Google in lieu of its own apps and store.
  • Partner with a third-party app store such as Aptoide.
  • Build a completely new OS that isn’t based on Android.

None of these choices is easy. As the second-largest phone maker in the world (after Samsung), Huawei makes dozens of different phones. A change of this magnitude would require a dramatic rethinking of just about every step of the process: design, engineering, marketing, price, and more.

If any of these options works, however, Huawei’s sheer size could create the first true competitor to iOS and Android, and put a serious dent in Google’s dominance.

EMUI as a service

To leave its EMUI OS intact and extract Google’s apps, services, and the Play Store, Huawei would either have to develop its own app store or partner with an existing company. Of course, any attempt to replicate the current Android-Google experience without linchpins like Maps and YouTube would almost certainly result in an experience inferior to what’s offered now, with a much smaller catalog of apps. Our phones may be able to do a lot out of the box, but both Android and iOS rely on third-party developers to augment device capabilities. Huawei would be at a serious disadvantage starting essentially from scratch.



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