World

Google ban could cost Huawei globally

Chinese giant now barred from updates to Android operating system

LONDON Huawei will support its smartphones and tablets by providing security updates and services, after Google barred it from updates to the Android operating system.

But the Chinese technology firm did not say yesterday what would happen with phones it sells in the future, which are unlikely to have access to Google services such as Gmail and YouTube unless a special licence is obtained.

Huawei's devices in its home market use a custom operating system based on open source Android, but do not include access to any Google services, which are banned in China.

But Google's curbs will hugely damage Huawei's global appeal, Reuters reported.

"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," a Huawei spokesman said by e-mail.

"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 added.

Almost half of the 208 million phones Huawei shipped last year went outside mainland China, and Europe is the most important overseas market where its devices had a 29 per cent market share in the first quarter of this year, technology research firm IDC says.

The Google loss is likely to cost Huawei all of its smartphone sales outside China as "device purchasing is now almost entirely driven by the ecosystem", industry analyst Richard Windsor said.

"Huawei will not lose access to Android itself, which is open source, but Android devices outside of China must offer access to Google services in order to have any prospect of being sold," he added.

Google said it would enact restrictions on Android updates after US President Donald Trump added Huawei to a trade blacklist, making it extremely difficult for Huawei to do business with US counterparts.

However, with these restrictions, Google risks being deprived of the revenue-generating data of all those phone owners around the world.

To get around the Google ban, Huawei would ultimately have to build its own operating system, which cannot be done in a hurry.

Microsoft offers a salutary example. Between 2010 and 2017, the US company tried to entice users to buy phones built on its own Windows mobile operating system. But the phones never took off and the company pulled the plug on the OS, AFP reported.

Huawei does have a big advantage over Microsoft, given the bigger scale of its mobile market penetration. Software developers might feel compelled to offer a Huawei-specific version of their apps.

And other Chinese smartphone makers, such as Xiaomi, Oppo and OnePlus, will be watching closely.

Should Huawei build its own system, it is conceivable that those companies might join it, in a bid to end their own vulnerability to future actions by the US government or companies.

Technology