Last week, the United States added Huawei to its 'Entity List', meaning US companies can't do business with Huawei without explicit government approval. A report from Reuters claims Google is ceasing most partnerships with Huawei, and future phones from the company won't have access to the Play Store and other services.
Reuters claims that Google has stopped providing Huawei with hardware and software products, except those covered by open source licenses. In other words, while Huawei can still use Android itself, most proprietary services will be inaccessible — including the Google Play Store, Gmail, and presumably anything else that requires the closed-source Play Services Framework.
The exact details are still being discussed internally at Google, according to a source that spoke with Reuters. The move could also prevent Huawei from updating its existing phones, as the updates can't be re-certified for Play Store access, risking the security of Huawei device owners. While security updates are part of AOSP and are still available to Huawei, Android's system WebView is updated through the Play Store, and Play Protect is a core part of Google's Android services.
Oh man. We’ll see where the Google/Huawei thing plays out, but inhibiting consumers from getting updated Android (more) in any way does not spark joy.
I’ve spent a lot of my career dealing with maybe-🇨🇳, and fully recognize most people’s threat model isn’t usually nations.
— Lesley Carhart (@hacks4pancakes) May 19, 2019
If this ends up being true, it would be a critical blow to Huawei's smartphone business. While the company could theoretically partner with non-American companies to provide alternatives to Google's applications (or use the in-house operating system it has been working on for a while), the lack of Play Store access would be a major drawback to any potential buyers. Huawei already has clones of many popular services in its home country, including an app store, but most of those services are currently limited to China.
A Google spokesperson provided us with the following (brief) statement:
"We are complying with the order and reviewing the implications."
"The order" refers to Huawei's recent addition to the United States Department of Commerce's Entity List, which we covered previously.
Google has released an updated statement:
"We are complying with the 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's nice that existing devices will continue to have access to Google Play, but it's still not clear if updates for these devices will cause them to lose Play certification. The official Android Twitter account also posted a similar statement:
For Huawei users' questions regarding our steps to comply w/ the recent US government actions: We assure you while we are complying with all US gov't requirements, services like Google Play & security from Google Play Protect will keep functioning on your existing Huawei device.
— Android (@Android) May 20, 2019
Official statement from Huawei and sub-brand Honor
In a statement given to Reuters by email, Huawei has promised to continue supporting Huawei and Honor devices already in the hands of consumers with security updates before offering a cryptic response as to what may happen going forward. Its full statement reads as below:
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.
We will continue to build a safe and sustainable software ecosystem, in order to provide the best experience for all users globally.
It's been said that the company has been working on its own operating system entirely separated from the Google ecosystem and the Android Open Source Project so it could be that those plans are brought forward as a consequence of recent developments.
We've also received a separate statement from sub-brand Honor, which is due to unveil its latest smartphone series on Tuesday, May 21 in London. It mimics the comments given to Reuters by Huawei but adds the following paragraph to the beginning of the statement:
Huawei has made substantial contributions to the development and growth of Android around the world. As one of Android’s key global partners, we have worked closely with their open-source platform to develop an ecosystem that has benefitted both users and the industry.
The launch event for the Honor 20 series will go ahead tomorrow as planned, with a clear business-as-usual air to our correspondence. We can expect little by way of official comment about this developing story at the event, but it will be interesting to see what the atmosphere is like.
According to WinFuture, the Chinese government has responded cautiously to the news and says it is closely monitoring the situation.