A STAY OF EXECUTION has been issued in the ongoing spat between the US Government and Huawei (Google is little more than a pawn in this whole thing).
After the announcement on Monday, things looked pretty bleak for Huawei's handset business, but overnight, the goalposts have shifted and now that ban has been delayed for 90 days, allowing companies, including Google, to continue trading with the tech giant.
The moratorium has been granted to allow Huawei to obtain enough parts to service existing customers, as well as bring the Android operating system up to date ahead of the new deadline of 29 August.
Commerce secretary Wilbur Ross said: "The temporary general licence grants operators time to make other arrangements and the [commerce department] space to determine the appropriate long term measures for Americans and foreign telecommunications providers that currently rely on Huawei equipment for critical services."
Note that the statement refers to helping rural and small-scale broadband providers, a reminder that the handset business is little more than collateral damage in a different fight.
It's hoped that the delay will also prevent the Chinese authorities from making any kind of retaliatory move, such as banning iPhones, which wouldn't play well with millions of citizens who still see Apple devices as the ultimate status symbol.
Reacting to the move, Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei warned against underestimating the company's power and influence, adding that in terms of 5G, the company is already two to three years ahead of rivals.
Share prices have recovered slightly on the news, after dropping on Monday amid concerns that chipmakers and component suppliers would have to follow Google's lead in banning one of their biggest customers.
The timing of all these shenanigans couldn't be worse, as journalists and fans gather in London for the launch of this week's flagship from sister brand Honor, the Honor 20. It's not known if or how the company will refer to this on stage.
So, what does all this mean for the public? The situation is changing all the time, but here's where we are as at 0815GMT on Tuesday:
I have a Huawei/Honor handset:
At the moment, nothing changes. Keep your phone up to date, just in case anything changes, but otherwise, you'll find no difference for the next three months. After that, it gets murkier. Huawei has promised to keep servicing and updating existing devices, but that might have to be with bespoke patches, as the company won't have access to Android (apart from AOSP) after that.
I was thinking of getting a Huawei/Honor handset:
Our advice is to hang on. We were going to publish our deep-dive review of the Huawei P30 Pro this week, but things are so murky right now, we've decided not to, and you should do the same.
Worst case scenario, despite Huawei's promises of three years of updates, handsets will remain stuck on this version of Android indefinitely.
Alternatively, if it's clear that nothing is going to change, Huawei might execute Order 66 and switch users to the alternative OS it has been working on. Very little is known about it, so we can't really recommend or warn either way. As such, hang loose.
Huawei has promised to service handsets that are still "in stock" - that rang alarm bells, so we checked with Huawei, which declined to clarify whether that means that any future batches of handsets will not be covered by the exclusion. Probably because at the moment, it doesn't know either.
20/5/19: Google has cut ties with Chinese tech giant Huawei, as the reality of the US (effective) ban on Huawei starts to hit.
The company has said that it will no longer supply Huawei with the 'Google-ised' version of the operating system, removing integration with its apps and use of the Google Play Store.
Google is the first-blink in what is expected to be a flurry of US-led companies that will distance themselves from the Shenzhen giant in order to comply with the Emergency Executive Order against Chinese tech that was taken out last week by the Trump White House, blacklisting Huawei amongst others.
The move is seen as a massive middle finger in the ongoing trade war between the US and China but could end up backfiring massively by creating a far greater adversary.
Huawei has been working on its own operating system for some time, so it was ready for this eventuality, but by forcing them to use it, the US could well be creating an all-new rival to iOS and Android that could prove more popular in Asian markets.
Meanwhile, the decision will cause havoc for the millions of existing Huawei and Honor handset owners. Google has said that it will continue to supply security updates to these devices, which will continue to work, but are now unlikely to receive updates to Android Q - making them instantly less attractive to potential buyers.
New devices from Huawei/Honor will be required to use only the open source (AOSP) version of Android, which means no Google Play Services, no Play Store, no YouTube, no Google Pay - in fact, most of the killer features of Android will disappear.
It brings in to question whether Huawei can survive as a handset maker, despite threatening to become the biggest in the world in the coming few years, with two best-in-class handset releases last year and the well-received P30 range introduced only last month.
It could also jeopardise the future of the upcoming Galaxy Fold rival, the Mate X, due for release later in the year, as well as the 5G version of the Mate 20 X, announced only last week.
At present, we're still waiting for details from Huawei about what it's going to do about its current devices and the millions in circulation. Simply 'upgrading' people to the new Huawei OS (if indeed it's ready) will raise legal and ethical difficulties surrounding whether the OS is part of the smartphone sale, in which case, anyone not happy would surely be entitled to a refund.
Ethically, the question of whether any new OS in the overseas market would be a security risk in itself.
Google has said it was "complying with the order and reviewing the implications".
In an emailed statement sent to The INQUIRER, Huawei said: "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.
"Huawei will continue to provide security updates and after sales services to all existing Huawei and Honor smartphone and tablet products covering those have been sold or 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."
As well as an alternative operating system, Huawei is already working on producing its own parts (its Kirin chipsets are already produced by the firm) to remove itself from companies that are likely to stop working with them, including Intel and Qualcomm.
But that brings its own problems - Huawei produced parts would be viewed as, at the very least, suspicious, given the environment of suspicion in which it currently operates. A Huawei device made with purely Huawei parts, running a Huawei operating system would doubtless raise claims of back-door shenanigans.
It's worth pointing out that the Huawei handset business has never been viewed with suspicion in the way that the network side of things has. In effect, this is a case of collateral damage in someone else's war and the consumer is getting the shrapnel.
Google hasn't said exactly how it plans to manifest the ruling on existing Huawei handsets, only that it is respecting the ban. At best, this will be the last Android handset from Huawei, (assuming nothing changes). At worst, millions of Huawei users, some who have only just spent a grand on a new P30 Pro, will have devices that won't have the much promoted three-year support, including multiple iteration updates - making them a different proposition from what people thought they were getting.
This is a developing story and will be updated throughout the day. μ
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