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Have a Huawei phone? Here's how Google's new Android measures may affect you

The news from Google comes as a blow to the Chinese smartphone maker.

View of a Huawei experience store in Shanghai, China
View of a Huawei experience store in Shanghai, China
Image: Imaginechina SIPA USA/PA Images

TECH GIANT GOOGLE has announced it will be barring Chinese smartphone maker Huawei from updates to its Android operating system, as it complies with directions from the US government.

Like numerous other brands of smartphone, Huawei utilises the Android operating system made by Google. So when you have a Huawei phone, you download apps from the Google Play store, for example.  

Last week, the Trump administration effectively prohibited Huawei from the American market – by adding it to a blacklist restricting US sales to the firm. It comes against the backdrop of a US trade war with China and US fears over the security of Huawei.

The US has gone as far as to warn other countries – including Ireland – of the dangers it says would be posed by allowing Huawei to construct a country’s 5G network.

“We are complying with the order and reviewing the implications,” a Google spokesperson said as it announced it would be cutting ties with the Chinese firm.

Implications

But what does this mean for someone with a Huawei smartphone?

In the short-to-medium term, it’s not clear just yet when access to certain apps and services will be pulled – although users can still access them at the moment. 

At the moment, if you have a Huawei device, you’ll still be able to access Google Play and security from Google Play protect will keep functioning on your existing phone.

In practice, you’ll still be able to download apps and update them for now.

However, when Google releases its next version of Android sometime this year, it may not be accessible on some Huawei devices meaning future editions of the smartphone won’t be able to access Youtube and other Google-owned apps.

Due to the ban, Google will have to halt business activities with Huawei that involve direct transfer of hardware, software and technical services that are not publicly available.

Huawei will only be able to use an open-source version of Android. A source told AFP that it will need to manually access any updates or software patches from Android Open Source Project, and also distribute the updates to users itself.

While it won’t have an immediate effect on Huawei users in Ireland, in the long-term it could mean they are denied access to Google Play Store, security updates from Google and its virtual assistant. 

Responding to queries from TheJournal.ie, a spokesman for Huawei issued a joint statement on behalf of the company and Google.

In the statement, Google said it was complying with the US government’s 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,” it said.

For its part, Huawei said it had made “substantial contributions” to the development and growth of the Android platform around the world.

“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 or are still in stock globally,” the statement continued.

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

 Alternatives

As it comes against the backdrop of the ongoing trade war with the US and China, as well the ongoing concerns the US has specifically about Huawei, it’s unclear at this stage what the next steps will be.

It is certainly an escalation on the part of the US, as if it is followed through upon it’ll deny Huawei – one of the world’s biggest smartphone manufacturers – access to essential Google services.

The Chinese firm may have something up its sleeve, however. In March, its consumer devices chief told German newspaper Die Welt that the company has “prepared our own operating systems” and called it its “plan B”. 

On the other hand, any softening in the trade war with the US could mean Trump rescinds the measures to block Huawei from the US market. 

In a statement, Huawei said it would “continue to provide security updates and after-sales services” to all existing smartphones and tablets globally, including those not yet sold.

So, in effect, the Google news today is very bad news for Huawei but it won’t be affecting your smartphone just yet. 

With reporting from AFP

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Sean Murray

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