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Questions linger over what happens to Huawei after Google ban

Author
Newstalk ZB, NZ Herald,
Section
Audio,
Publish Date
Tuesday, 21 May 2019, 2:21PM
Google has suspended it's business with Huawei after US sanctions. (Photo / Getty)

It's still unclear how Google's decision to block Huawei will affect New Zealand users.

An executive order from Donald Trump has forced Google to stop Huawei accessing its operating system and apps.

Over time, people may lose access to functions and popular apps like Uber.

Telecommunications Users Association chief executive Craig Young told Kerre McIvor it's probably not good news.

"I think we're at the mercy of the American government and their view on China. Huawei has been dragged into a larger geo-political storm."

He says that Huawei provides very cost-effective phones, and many people who use them enjoy them, and find features such as the cameras more useful than other models. 

Young says that those who already have the phones will still receive security updates through Google, but the big question is over what will happen next. App developers will also have to debate whether to create a new version of their products to be used specifically on the Huawei operating system. 

He also says that their removal from the market will change how he pay for phones and our access. 

"It could have a considerable impact on the global phone market, not just in China." 

Here are the other big questions that linger over the sanctions: 

Why did Google suspend its business with Huawei?

Google says it is complying with a ban put in place last Friday by the Trump administration, which bars US companies from supplying technology to Huawei on the grounds the White House considers it a security threat (a claim Huawei staunchly denies).

Why does it matter for the phone market?

Google's Android software is used by almost every phone maker outside Apple on almost all of their models. If you own a Huawei phone, it runs on Android, and downloads apps from Google - and other companies - via Google's Play Store ( (Google's equivalent to Apple's App Store and iTunes) and uses Google services like Maps.

How will the ban hit my Huawei phone today?

There will be no immediate effect. It will keep working as usual. And you'll still be able to use the likes of Google Maps and Search, and you'll still be able to download the latest versions of apps like Gmail from Google Play.

A Google spokeswoman told the Herald, "We are complying with the order and reviewing the implications. For users of our services, Google Play and the security protections from Google Play Protect will continue to function on existing Huawei devices."

Will future Huawei phones be able to use Android?

"Existing Huawei devices", is very much the operative phrase in the above paragraph.

Google is playing for time while it assesses its options around supporting future models of Huawei phones, and whether current Huawei phones will be able to upgrade to the next major version of Android which would mean they potentially miss out on whatever new features the operating system software upgrade includes.

As things stand, it seems unlikely future Huawei phones will be certified for the Google Play store, and that while they could have a bare-bones version of Android, they could miss out on key features like Google Maps, cloud storage with Google Drive, YouTube, Google Photos and Google Duo video calls.

Many of these services could still be accessed via a phone's web browser, but it would be a lot more finicky than using Android apps.

Would that be the end for Huawei's handset business?

No, the Chinese company has reportedly been working on its own mobile operating system software, in case a ban went into place, and its own online store, the little-known App Gallery. But its customers would lose the familiarity of Android, and the convenience of downloading apps and content from Google Play. So it would be a major blow.

It's true that Android (bought by Google in 2005) is open source, meaning any company can use it for free. But it's of limited appeal if Google does end up blocking future Huawei devices from its services like Search, Maps and Gmail and Google Play.

And while Huawei could still distribute security patches through the Android Open Source Project, the AOSP typically gets fixes about a month after Google supplies them to phone makers.

Could I get a refund?

Could you get a refund if your Huawei phone is ultimately blocked from Android updates, security patches or Google's Play store?

Consumer NZ technology reviewer Hadyn Green posted soon after the ban was announced, "If you live in New Zealand and the Huawei phone that you purchased no longer connects to the Play Store, and/or no longer receives security updates: you get a refund under the CGA [Consumer Guarantees Act]."

A recent case saw a Noel Leeming customer awarded $1249.99 by the Disputes Tribunal under the CGA after their Apple Watch stopped accepting updates.

How else is Huawei hit by the US ban?

A number of hardware companies, including chipmakers Intel, Broadcom, Micron and Qualcomm are also banned from supplying Huawei (which said last week that more than $1 out of every $7 of its annual US$70 billion procurement budget is spent buying components from US firms - which of course means the ban will hurt the US tech industry).

That will make it trickier and more expensive for Huawei to make phones, but it will still be do-able if South Korean, German and Taiwanese vendors co-operate (though watch for US pressure to be applied there).

How has Huawei reacted?

Huawei's top executive in the UK, Jeremy Thompson, said the US ban was "cynically-timed" and about economics, not cyber-security.

"We're in the middle of a trade war between two big countries so the timing of this is to inflict maximum hurt on our organisation. We're a football in between this trade war," he said.

Huawei also sent the Herald the following statement: "Huawei has made substantial contributions to the development and growth of Android around the world. As one of Android's key global partners, we have worked closely with their open-source platform to develop an ecosystem that has benefited both users and the industry.

"Huawei will continue to provide security updates and after-sales services to all existing Huawei and Honor smartphone and tablet products, covering those that have been sold and that are still in stock globally.

"We will continue to build a safe and sustainable software ecosystem, in order to provide the best experience for all users globally."

 

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