The US government has blacklisted Huawei. As a result Google has stopped providing and supporting the Android software used on Huawei phones. American chip makers can no long supply technology to Huawei. The Huawei blacklist is part of a wider trade dispute between the US and China.
Does the Huawei blacklist mean I have to stop using my phone?
No. If you already have a Huawei it will carry on working as normal for now.
Could China be spying on me through my Huawei phone?
Don’t be silly. If you’re like the average Android phone user you already let Facebook, Google and others spy on you. They make money that way.
If China wanted to casually spy on you it could buy data from one of those companies. If you’re a serious intelligence target for Chinese agents they’re probably able to spy on you regardless of your phone’s brand.
Is my Huawei phone a security risk?
No more than any other Android phone. Android is more prone to malware and nasty stuff than other phones, but this changes nothing in that department.
Huawei has not always been the best at providing necessary software updates and security patches in the past. The company says it will go on supporting existing customers.
I was thinking of buying a Huawei phone…
That’s probably not a great idea although if sales slump you may be able to pick up a bargain.
If you buy a Huawei phone today you’ll get updates for the current version of Android. It’s most likely you’ll get upgrades for the next version. After that things start to get tricky.
At the moment we’re on Android Pie. The next version, Android Q is due in a few months. Huawei has had all the code for both of these.
The next version, R, should turn up in about 14 months. The way things stand today Huawei won’t get that code.
Without official support, you could be cut adrift from the Android mothership in as little as 14 months. Huawei says it will continue with security upgrades, but you may struggle to run some apps once R is mainstream.
What about other Chinese Android phone brands?
How much of a gambler are you? The recent Huawei blacklist is specific to one company, but it’s part of an escalating trade war between the US and China. If you count yourself as cautious, then wait to see how the dust settles before buying an alternative Chinese brand.
Isn’t Android supposed to be open source?
Only up to a point.
Android has a number of layers. At the top there’s Huawei’s own software overlay, that’s EMUI on the premium phones. There’s a service layer which connects to things like the Google Play store, Maps and Gmail.
There’s a low level layer that connects the operating system to the hardware. The underlying Android operating system, AOSP is open source. Huawei will still be able to use that. It will be updated as normal.
However, Google usually shares this code with favoured phone makers months before the code is made public. Phone makers pay vast sums for this.
The blockade means Huawei will now get the code on release day, so users may wait months for upgrades.
This is how AOSP works for many smaller Chinese phone makers. If you’ve tried one of those phones you’ll know the customer experience often leaves much to be desired.
Yet it’s also how Huawei’s Chinese phone business works, so the company already knows how to deal with the restrictions.
The real problem is with those services or those of us living in western countries. If Google makes changes there could be problems for existing phone users.
Will I be cut off from Google services?
No. At least not for the foreseeable future. You might not get any new services introduced from next year on.
Is any of this covered by the Commerce Act?
That’s a good question. The simple answer is you probably won’t be able to use the Commerce Act as a way of getting your money back if the phone goes on working as normal. Although there’s an interesting precedent that suggests otherwise.
In the longer term you may have a case if a lack of software updates means the phone is, in effect, rendered useless before a reasonable period of time.
If this happens, it won't matter if Huawei is no longer active in New Zealand (see below). The phone retailer is liable, not the manufacturer.
What does this mean for Huawei’s phone business in New Zealand?
It’s possible the spat between the US and China blows over in a few weeks and things will return to normal. If not, it will soon be hard for Huawei to sell phones here. Anecdotal evidence says customers are already avoiding the brand.
That’s a shame because Huawei makes some of the best Android phones. It is the number three phone brand here. While it may not always look like it, Huawei acts to keep Samsung and Apple competitive.
Phones account for about half of Huawei’s revenue worldwide. Half of its sales are in China where losing Google isn’t a problem. So a quarter of the company’s revenue is at risk.
On the other hand, no-one knows if Huawei make much, if any, profit from phone sales. The Huawei blacklist could lead to the company exiting the phone market outside of China. If that's the case, it could be doing Huawei a favour.
Huawei blacklist - A guide for everyday users was first posted at billbennett.co.nz.