Huawei could survive without Android, but it wouldn’t be pretty

May 26, 2019 By King

Huawei could survive without Android, but it wouldn’t be pretty

img-20190426-122533The US government may have banned Huawei from using any software or hardware created by American companies, but China’s massive phone maker is defiant that the lack of American partner support won’t break the brand, even if its traditionally Android-based devices are cut off from Android while Google cuts off business ties following President Trump’s executive order.

No stranger to tension with the US government, Huawei has proven that it doesn’t need US carriers in order to grow its business. Huawei is the world’s largest supplier of networking equipment and the second-largest phone brand. The tech giant has reportedly been working on its own operating system as an alternative to Android software (and its own Huawei app store) in case relations with US companies go south. And going south it is. Just today, Huawei was suspended from the Wi-Fi Alliance and removed from the SD Association, which set guidelines on the SD memory cards used in phones and other devices.

“Our company will not end up with an extreme supply shortage. We have got well prepared,” Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei said to Chinese journalists this week. “At the beginning of this year, I predicted that something like this would occur. … We thought we would have two years to make preparations. But when [Huawei CFO] Meng Wanzhou was arrested, it sparked everything off.”

This isn’t surprising. Huawei has been in the US government’s crosshairs for years, a de facto ban in 2012 (some might call it a strong urging) effectively keeping Huawei phones from US carriers despite previous relationships there.

But one look at the current smartphone market reveals how the company could fail if it tries to go it alone. Android and iOS form a duopoly, with 86% of all the world’s phones running on Android, according to IDC, about 14% running on iPhone’s iOS, and 0% running on any other platform.

The days when three, four and even five mobile operating systems fought for dominance are far behind us, and the last holdouts — Windows Phone, BlackBerry OS and WebOS — have long since crumpled or converted to Android.

Even rival Samsung, which poured money into its own open-source Tizen operating system (which you see on Samsung smartwatches like the Galaxy Watch Active), couldn’t make a meaningful dent. Huawei’s chances of creating a third OS will be most successful in its home country of China, where it sells 50% of 60% of its total phones (estimates vary by source).

However, in markets outside of China, like Europe, Australia, the Middle East and Latin America, an OS that doesn’t fully support Android means that customers would have to say goodbye to mainstay services like Gmail, Google Maps and Google Assistant.

“The operating system is less of an immediate problem to Huawei than the absence of Google applications,” said Ben Wood, chief or research at CCS Insight, in a report on the situation. “There is no doubt that Huawei needs access to the full range of Google apps and services, which are essential to success in Western markets.”

Temporarily loosened restrictions mean that Huawei and Google can still work together to keep current Huawei Android phones like the Huawei P30 Pro supplied with security updates and Google’s Android services through Aug. 19, but losing Google’s Android support for future phones could spell disaster for Huawei’s business and impact the global smartphone market as a whole.

“We expect trade wars threaten a potential 5% decline in global mobile phone shipments in 2019,” Wood said.