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Is it safe now to have a Huawei smartphone?

“It’s clear that this decision is politically motivated and has nothing to do with national security,” the Chinese company said in a statement sent to the press. “Attempts to suppress Huawei’s business won’t help the United States achieve technological leadership.”

The order from the US government means Huawei cannot buy tech from US firms such as Google without its endorsement. However, a reprieve was put in place in the form of a temporary license which will expire on November 19, 2019, enabling Huawei to maintain existing devices. But the license does not apply to new products, putting a cloud over future Huawei smartphones.

What does it mean for existing Huawei smartphones?

Owners of existing Huawei smartphones including the P30 Pro and Mate20 Pro are unaffected in their current form. No apps will disappear and they can continue to use Google apps, get security updates and receive after sales support as per normal.

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“Anyone who has bought a Huawei smartphone or tablet, or is considering buying one, can be assured that they will have access to the world of apps, including Google Play Store, WhatsApp, Google Maps, Google Assistant, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and many more,” a Huawei representative said.

Huawei has, additionally, confirmed that it will be rolling out an Android 10 software upgrade with its EMUI 10 user interface on top in the “coming months” to its most popular smartphones from the P30 Pro through to 2017’s Mate10.

What’s unclear is whether Android software upgrades will cease once the temporary license expires on November 19. Should the ban progress, it’s unlikely that existing Huawei handsets will receive software updates beyond Android 10 unless Google is able to secure an exemption license from the Huawei ban.

What about future Huawei phones?

Unless the ban is rescinded, all of Huawei’s future smartphones including the company’s next major release, the 5G-capable Mate 30 series, will not launch with Google’s version of the Android operating system or widely used apps such as the Google Play Store and Google Maps.

The South China Morning Post reports that the launch of the Mate 30 series might be delayed in the West due to the lack of access to Google services. The outlet’s sources say the phones will use an open-source version of Android devoid of Google’s apps and services. They added, however, that Huawei’s planned delay is not final and that any further action by the US government might affect the firm’s decision.

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Huawei’s own alternative to Android, dubbed HarmonyOS, is also being positioned as a plan B.

“Huawei will continue to use the Android OS and ecosystem if the US government allows us to do so,” a Huawei representative said. “Otherwise, we will continue to develop our own operating system and ecosystem.”

It isn’t, however, just Google that supplies Huawei.

Chip designer ARM has also ceased business with Huawei, threatening the Chinese company’s ability to create its own chips that power Huawei smartphones. While ARM is based in the UK and owned by Japan’s SoftBank, it was forced to comply with the US banning order since ARM’s chip designs include intellectual property from a number of US companies it has acquired over the years.

Huawei relies on ARM for chip architecture designs for its own Kirin processors which it pays to license. Without the licenses, Huawei will not be able to build its own smartphone processors.

However Huawei confirmed to the press last week that the new Kirin 990, which is set to power the next wave of flagship Huawei smartphones including the upcoming Mate 30 series, would not be affected by the ban since the ARM license is based on work that predated the blacklisting.

Huawei spent an estimated $US70 billion ($104 billion) in 2018 buying components, $US11 billion of which is from US-based companies such as Qualcomm, Intel, Micro and Skyworks Solutions. Huawei has built a stockpile of key US-sourced components that may last up to a year and while some of the US suppliers can be replaced by Chinese alternatives, Huawei still faces a significant challenge in manufacturing future smartphones without some form of US technology inside.

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