The NXT Big Thing: Why America’s Restrictions on Huawei will Not Spell the End of the Brand

Huawei, as you may not know, was poised to be the Next Big IT company, much like Nokia and Motorola were 15 years ago at the start of the 3G era. The Chinese smartphone and network equipment company has spent over a decade building up to become the world’s biggest network infrastructure maker and number two smartphone maker, and 2019 was going to be The Year for Huawei, launching brilliant market-leading smartphones like the P30 Pro while rolling out 5G networks globally. Till the U.S. Government stepped in that is.Huawei Logo

A Devastating Blow…?

We won’t talk about the reasons for Huawei’s current situation with the American government, but the impact of restrictions imposed by said government has caused a huge uncertainty to consumers who were going to purchase Huawei’s devices and to telcos across the world who were going to choose Huawei equipment for parts of their upcoming 5G network infrastructure. The fact of the matter is that because of a single decision, coupled with almost complete dominance of American technology in the information age, a multi-billion dollar company halfway across the world seems almost on the brink of shutting down.

When Google and Apple released the Android and iOS operating systems around a decade ago, the smartphone was just beginning to dominate the market but consumers still had a range of OS platforms to choose from – from Nokia’s Symbian to Windows Mobile, BlackBerry OS and even WebOS. A decade later and the domination of the smartphone market by Android and iOS is almost total, and is partly the reason for the current situation that Huawei now finds itself in, as there are few apparently few alternatives to American-based or American-sourced technology, hardware and software when it comes to the business of making smartphones.

The main appeal of these two OS to consumers was not just the App store experience and strong frequent security updates, but also for the fact that over time, both OS providers were able to offer services like iCloud, iTunes, Google Maps, Google Drive and Youtube on both platforms, all users had to do was simply download the required app. In fact, with the near universal duality of apps (apart from some platform exclusive apps) you can enjoy the same Instagram experience or Fortnite gameplay on either mobile OS.

One of the interesting issues that came from Google’s brief withdrawal of its services (reinstated till at least 19th August) to Huawei is not that Huawei can no longer make Android devices, but that Huawei will no longer automatically receive security updates or access Google services such G Suite and Google Play Store. That means for many Android users (outside of China) who may be thinking of switching to a Huawei device in the near future the prospect of not being able to get your Gmail or download WhatsApp and FaceBook seems like a real disadvantage.

But is that really the case? Take a calming breath because its not.Huawei Corporate Building

Bouncing Back Stronger and More Resilient

First. Let’s be clear about a couple of things. There are very few consumers who use Huawei devices in America, as they aren’t officially sold there, while in China where Google Services aren’t available there are a number of alternative app stores from Tencent, Baidu and other Chinese smartphone makers. So the main impact of these Google restrictions hit the consumers outside of the USA and China that use Huawei devices – and that’s a whopping 50% of Huawei smartphone users.

Android is an open-source platform (which means you can use it without paying for a license, and explains why in the early 2010s dozens of Chinese smartphone makers jumped on the OS) and plenty of smartphone makers, from Samsung to Vivo, have created their own user interfaces/UI based on Android, such as Huawei’s own EMUI (version 9 has just been released).

There’s been plenty of rumors that with their own more optimised OS (rumored to be called Hongmeng or Ark), Huawei smartphones, running on Huawei’s own Hisilicon Kirin processors, are not just compatible with all Android apps, but have better performance, and of course, their camera systems are either self-created (like the 48MP shooter on the Honor View 20) or in collaboration with LEICA, a German camera maker.  

Back to Google-reliant users (like yours truly). Frankly, many of us have lived with the convenience of Google cloud services for so long that we’re sort of blinded to the existing alternatives – there’s not only iCloud by Samsung and Microsoft OneDrive but plenty of smartphone makers also offer cloud services to their users, like LG, Samsung and yes, Huawei. There are also ways to sidestep (or sideload) app ‘restrictions’, from accessing Facebook via a browser app to using a third-party app store like the European-based Aptodie to download the Facebook or Instagram app.Huawei Lobby

Huawei, by the way, already has their own App Store, which they actually set up a couple of years ago- it’s called AppGallery and while it’s available internationally, back in 2017 we paid a visit to one of Huawei’s R&D centres in Beijing and the tech staff there actually told us that Huawei, like Vivo, Oppo and Xiaomi, created their own one-stop app store to ensure that their Chinese consumers could download apps that were safe, secure and free from the thousands of malicious apps that float around China’s internet.

The restrictions placed on Huawei could also easily be applied to other non-US smartphone makers using Android OS, not just other Chinese smartphone makers but other brands like Nokia, which is still headquartered in Finland. While the world has gotten along well with what is essentially a duopoly of mobile OS (both BlackBerry 10 OS and Microsoft’s Windows Mobile OS will have their support stopped by the end of this year), perhaps it is time that the various PC and smartphone makers around the world had a re-think about the perils of a single country dominating operating software that has become a part of nearly everyone’s daily lives.

At the end of the day, Huawei, whom in 2018 recorded total sales of $105.1 billion, with a net profit of $8.7 billion, is going to take a major loss one way or another this year, but the company will be galvanised to use their own solutions and bounce back.