Over the weekend, Google announced it would cease all business with Chinese smartphone manufacturer Huawei. After Google’s announcement of this Huawei ban, other companies followed suit in one way or another, including Qualcomm, Intel, Microsoft, and even Arm.
The Huawei ban is a result of multiple factors all coming to a head when United States President Donald Trump issued an executive order effectively forbidding Huawei from buying or selling products from U.S. companies. To catch up on how this all came to be, consult our roundup here.
How will this affect Android as a whole? Many people might look at this Huawei ban and say, “I don’t own a Huawei phone and don’t ever plan to buy one, so this has no effect on me.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. This Huawei ban affects us all, and — if it sticks — the negative side effects could do some serious damage to the world of Android.
This Huawei ban is going to be costly
When Google announced this Huawei ban, it was easy to think that Huawei — not Google — was in serious trouble. After all, Google doesn’t make much money from China (at least not directly) since Google products are essentially non-existent in the country.
However, Google has plenty of cash invested in China, including an AI research facility it announced at the end of 2017. Project Dragonfly — Google’s supposedly shelved ambition to bring Search back to China — is at the very least proof that the company has its sights set on the country.
After this Huawei ban, though, you can bet Google isn’t going to be too welcome in China, which will undoubtedly throw its financial plans into a tizzy.
Google's China ambitions are now troubled even more than before, and U.S. companies stand to lose a lot of cash.
Intel, Qualcomm, Broadcom, Microsoft, and other U.S. organizations all have finances tied into Huawei in some way. This Huawei ban means that cash flow is getting choked which will hurt the bottom line for everyone. Earlier today, we also found out that Arm is pulling all business away from Huawei, which could be even more detrimental to the company’s sustainability than losing Google.
While these companies losing revenue doesn’t directly affect the world of Android, it certainly does indirectly. When the very pillars of the Android-based smartphone industry are feeling financial pressure, that affects everything, usually starting with R&D. With less cash to burn, we’ll see less innovation, fewer releases, and higher prices for Android products.
Could a new Android challenger appear?
We already know that Huawei has a “Plan B” in the works when it comes to the Android operating system. Rumors point to a Huawei-branded OS running Android apps natively and getting prepped to launch as early as this year.
Will this new operating system be any good? Probably not, at least at first. Android has a ten-year head start on Huawei, not to mention the benefits of the open source nature of Android (something which Huawei and China would almost certainly never support). If you need proof of how likely it is that the Huawei mobile OS will be pretty terrible, just look at the fact that we’ve never seen it before — Huawei has depended on Android for years because, frankly, it’s likely the best system for the job.
The gloves are off now. If this Huawei ban sticks, the company will have no choice but to go all-in on its own OS. It’s not like Huawei is simply going to stop making smartphones.
If Huawei can't use Android, it will use something else. Its smartphone business is too big to abandon.
It won’t happen overnight, but the Huawei OS would eventually be a threat to the dominance of Android. Even if it’s a nominal threat at first, that threat will grow due to the industrial might of Huawei combined with the backing of China itself. That’s something you can’t forget through all of this: Huawei and the country of China are so intrinsically tied together that a fight with one is invariably also a fight with the other.
Can you imagine what it would be like if there were a state-sponsored mobile operating system getting pushed out to China’s roughly 1.4 billion citizens? That’s a huge portion of the world’s population who now no longer use Android. Even if the OS is terrible, it will only be a matter of time before it is a stable challenger to Android.
Some might say that competition in the mobile OS world is welcome as it will just push Android to be that much better. Don’t forget that there have been plenty of times over the past 20 years where there have been many mobile operating systems duking it out: various Windows systems, BlackBerry OS, Palm OS, Symbian, etc. They all are gone now because Android saw wide adoption at an alarmingly fast pace — just like we’d likely see with this Huawei OS.
Now, I’m in no way saying that this Huawei OS is going to kill off Android. I’m merely pointing out that this Huawei OS is likely not the kind of competition that will make Android any better.
Huawei is too big to fail
Think back again to what I said earlier about how Huawei and China are so linked that they are nearly interchangeable. That is, of course, one of the big reasons this ban is in effect in the first place.
Huawei is already the second-largest smartphone manufacturer in the world. It’s also already the world’s largest telecommunications company. When you combine that kind of pedigree with the forever-loyal backing of the Chinese government, you have the very definition of “too big to fail.”
China and the U.S. have had frosty relations for a long time. This is only going to make that worse.
It’s a sure bet that this Huawei ban is going to be the start of something akin to a cold war. China has already seen the U.S. as an enemy — maybe not an enemy at war, but certainly as a threat. This just pushes that dynamic even further.
China will fight tooth-and-nail to defend Huawei, that much is certain. Will the U.S. government do the same when it comes to companies like Google or Qualcomm? Certainly not, at least not at the same level. This Huawei ban is about the U.S. government vs. China — and that puts U.S. companies in a very intimidating position in the middle. If you don’t think that will affect the world of Android, you’re in for a nasty surprise.
Will it be worth it?
It’s very easy to have conflicting opinions on Huawei. I think the company makes some truly exceptional smartphones but also know that it has a history of some incredibly shady business practices. I try not to give my money to companies with such poor ethical standing, but some of their products are pretty tempting, I will admit.
With that in mind, I’m partially OK with this Huawei ban as it feels a bit like the United States standing up for the rest of the world and saying, “No, you can’t get away with this anymore, Huawei.” In that respect, I’m a supporter of the ban.
It's hard to take sides with this fight, but it's not hard to hope there won't be too much collateral damage.
On the other hand, the United States — and the companies therein, including Google — don’t have the cleanest of histories either. It’s not difficult to see some hypocrisy in banning Huawei for actions the U.S. ignores when committed by one of its own.
If the ethical standing of this Huawei ban is ambiguous at best, the question then becomes whether or not it will be worth it. We’ll have to wait and see how Huawei handles this to know the answer to that question.
Will Huawei make some concessions and turn things around as we saw recently with ZTE? Will Huawei give the U.S. the metaphorical finger and go its own way, igniting trade wars and tech wars in its wake? Will the U.S. realize the gravity of the situation and make its own concessions in order to keep the peace? We don’t know yet, but here’s hoping Android doesn’t get permanently damaged in the meantime.