What does Huawei’s trade ban mean for your Huawei or Honor phone?

Huawei has been affected by a US trade ban. The ban is particularly problematic for the Google-Huawei partnership, which means that Huawei can’t preload new phones with Google apps like Maps and YouTube, the Play Store or Google Assistant. 

Pre-May 2019 will continue to get security updates and current devices that would have got the forthcoming Android 10 will still get it. Laptops will get all the Windows updates in the traditional manner. Many current Huawei phones will get the new EMUI 10 user interface on top of Android 10 – more on this below. 

These Huawei phones don’t have Google services

The new Mate 30 and Mate 30 Pro, Mate Xs and Honor V30 series don’t have any Google apps. They rely on Huawei apps and the App Gallery download store, which doesn’t have a huge number of apps at present. And in particular things like online banking apps and specific services aren’t currently catered for, although Huawei is making a huge effort to improve this. 

These phones do come with Android 10 (with Huawei’s EMUI 10 user interface on top). But you can only install Google apps via a relatively convoluted and dodgy process and neither Huawei or Google officially recommend this. 

The upcoming Huawei P40 and P40 Pro will also be in the same boat. Ridiculous as it sounds given the success of other recent Huawei handsets, we’re not sure whether networks will stock them due to the lack of Google apps. 

The story so far

In May 2019 it was announced that Google and other businesses that trade in the US have to change the way they deal with Huawei. The Chinese giant was blacklisted by the US in the latest skirmish of the ongoing trade war.

Subsequently, in a speech on 29 June, President Trump said he had agreed to allow US tech companies like Google and Qualcomm to once again start selling to Huawei following the restart of trade talks between the US and China. The caveat is that it’s only for goods not connected to national security. Trump made the comments at a press conference at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan. The move seemed to be a reaction to the fact US companies were also feeling the effect of the ban.

Google was particularly vociferous that preventing Huawei using its version of Android could potentially result in national security issues through people using a Huawei-developed replacement OS – now revealed to be HarmonyOS. In reality, it’s probably because non-Android phones would hit Google profits. 

On 1 August Trump appeared to contradict his earlier statement (for a change), “we’re not allowing Huawei into our country, we’re not changed on that”. This would have shown a stronger stance had he not immediately clarified it with “we can do business on non-security things with Huawei, we can do that”.

On 5 September Trump stated again that “Huawei is a big concern of our military, of our intelligence agencies, and we are not doing business with Huawei”.

Around this time, Huawei and Honor devices were added back onto the Android Enterprise Recommended website. That’s significant as Google is actively recommending them to businesses for long-term use.

On 4 November US Commerce Secretary Wilber Ross told Bloomberg that licenses to allow Huawei to trade with US companies “will be forthcoming very shortly” and indeed, a further 90 day reprieve was granted in mid-November. 

Huawei has also now filed a lawsuit against the US telecoms regulator (the FCC) as it has banned US carriers from buying Huawei gear with subsidies paid by the FCC to carries to guarantee access to telco services continue to be available right across the US.

In January 2020 the Trump administration signed a trade agreement with China which saw a thawing of the trade war, but there was no provision for Huawei in the agreement. It’s thought that a second deal is on the table but there isn’t consensus on whether this will help or hinder Huawei. 

The US Department of Commerce has dumped rules making it harder for American companies to deal with Huawei – presumably because of the damage to US businesses. As we mentioned, Google is not a fan of the trade ban. It does, however, show that different parts of the US Government can’t agree on a united plan of dealing with the company. 

How does Huawei feel about the situation?  

At the Mate 30 launch, Huawei CEO Richard Yu told Pocket-lint that Huawei could push Google apps to affected devices “overnight” if the ban was lifted but said that he felt the phone will still sell well in many territories, especially China of course (we’ve been led to believe this is the case).

He also opened up on his feelings about the ban. “It’s not good for US companies, it’s not good [for us]…in the past we [made] a big contribution to US companies. And now it’s not allowed to use…it’s damaging to US companies’ business.

“We are very open and transparent. We are a globalised company. In the US-China trade war we have become a bargaining chip.

“We didn’t want to do this…we were forced to do this. We have a good partnership with Google but the US Government forced us to do this. I hope you guys [journalists] can understand this.”

How does this relate to the Huawei 5G issue in the UK?

Australia and Japan have blocked Huawei from involvement in 5G networks, but the UK Government has seen no reason to do the same (it did identify some problems in Huawei’s software which the company is working to fix with the help of GCHQ). None of these countries has banned Huawei from trading there.

The US Government doesn’t like the UK having kept Huawei 5G hardware involved, part of an ongoing campaign against the Chinese giant. But even if the UK doesn’t see the risks with Huawei that the US seems to, it may be backed into a corner. The UK needs a US trade deal in the post-Brexit world and it might have to introduce a ban on Huawei equipment to get that deal over the line.

The practicality in introducing a Huawei 5G ban in the UK is extremely difficult. All the UK networks use Huawei tech in their networks although increasingly not in the core network, presumably in case future issues are identified. However, in terms of antenna gear, Huawei remains a massive player.

What the trade ban means for other companies dealing with Huawei

The order from the US Government originally issued in May 2019 meant Huawei couldn’t buy tech from US firms without its endorsement. However, a reprieve was in place – now extended, meaning that US firms can trade with Huawei for goods that don’t affect security issues. 

The reprieve enabled Huawei to announce that it will be bringing Android 10 to the P30, P20 and Mate 20 (plus more) as – presumably – it was able to use the extra time to get the updates approved by Google.

  • The top mobile phones available to buy today

Since the Google situation became apparent other suppliers such as ARM, the SD Card Association, Intel, Microsoft and Qualcomm said they would have to suspend trading with the Chinese giant, so there was hurried work behind the scenes trying to get partnerships signed off.

HiSilicon is Huawei’s subsidiary that makes phone chipsets. The withdrawal of ARM cooperation would be massive since all of Huawei’s smartphone platforms use ARM-based designs (as do almost all smartphones and tablets everywhere). Huawei’s ARM-based Kirin 990 platform, destined for the Mate 30 and P40, was presumably already signed off at that point, but there could be implications for late 2020 hardware. 

US chipmaker Intel supplies the chips for Huawei’s laptop line and is continuing to do so, presumably because Intel can supply these chips from elsewhere. Microsoft is also able to keep supplying Windows licenses to Huawei. 

What does it mean for existing Huawei devices?

Existing pre-May 2019 Huawei devices like the P30 Pro and Mate 20 Pro are unaffected in their current form. No apps will disappear and they can continue to use Google apps and get security updates. Because Honor is a subsidiary of Huawei, the same implications would apply to its handsets, too.

Google is clear on this point: “For users of our services, Google Play and the security protections from Google Play Protect will continue to function on existing Huawei devices”.

For its part, Huawei says it “will continue to provide security updates and after-sales services to all existing Huawei and Honor smartphone and tablet products covering those which have been sold or are still in stock globally.”

Even if the trade ban does continue, Huawei can “provide service and support, including software updates or patches, to existing Huawei handsets”. This basically means Huawei can continue to trade in the US for these purposes. 

What wasn’t clearer for a time was whether Huawei and Honor handsets would get feature updates. But we now know that the following devices will get the upgrade to Android 10 during 2020 and they’ll also get EMUI 10, Huawei’s user interface, on top too. 

  • P30 Pro
  • P30 Huawei
  • Mate 20 Huawei
  • Mate 20 Pro
  • Mate 20 RS
  • P30 lite
  • P smart 2019
  • P smart+ 2019
  • P smart Z
  • Mate 20 X
  • Mate 20 X 5G
  • P20 Pro
  • P20
  • Mate 10 Pro
  • Porsche Design Mate 10
  • Mate 10
  • Mate 20 Lite
  • Honor 8X
  • Honor 10
  • Honor 20
  • Honor 20i/20 Lite
  • Honor 20 Pro


What does it mean for future devices?

The Mate 30 and Mate 30 Pro, Mate Xs and Honor V30 do not have access to the Google Play Store and other Google apps and so haven’t been launched in the UK and Europe. It will be the same situation with the upcoming P40 and P40 Pro. Huawei has its own App Gallery, but many established apps are not yet in there.

There isn’t a way to offer a first-party way to get Google Play Services installed on these new phones, but there is a slightly complicated workaround that involves downloading an APK installer package directly onto the handset. It isn’t recommended at all, however. After you have Play Services and the Play Store installed, you can install any Android app from the store just as you would otherwise. 

As a contingency, Huawei has developed its own operating system HarmonyOS but it is not based on Android at all. Initially, will not come to smartphones, but this may change in the future. 

  • HarmonyOS: Everything you need to know

30 May update: Added extra links and context about the ongoing situation.

11 June update: Added new developments from Google and UK operators.

20 June update: Added information about devices getting Android Q update

1 July update: Added information on Trump’s G20 statement and new Huawei statement

9 August update: Major rework after the announcement of HarmonyOS

12 August update: Android Enterprise information added

30 August update: Added latest info from Reuters

9 September update: Added Mate 30 information from IFA 2019

18 September update: Added latest Mate 30 information

20 September update: Added Mate 30 launch information and Richard Yu quotes

11 November update: Added latest situation on US-China trade talks

6 December update: Added latest information

20 January update 2020: Added latest information including trade deal developments

13 March update: Refined information

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