Huawei’s new phone could be the first major hardware casualty of the US-China trade war

3 min read

On a normal year, millions of Huawei fans anticipate the announcement of the company’s new smartphones. But 2019 is not a normal year.

In May 2019, Huawei was placed on a US trade blacklist, preventing US companies from doing business with Huawei without permission from the US government. As a result, Huawei cannot use Google’s Android operating system on its upcoming phone, the Mate 30 Pro, a Google spokesperson confirmed to Reuters.

Despite this, Huawei is still planning to launch its Mate 30 Pro smartphone in September. But the anticipation and excitement of a new Huawei phone launch within the company is likely now tainted by apprehension.

Without the the Android operating system, Huawei’s Mate 30 phones can’t run Google’s suite of apps, nor can they run Android apps from the Google Play Store. That puts Huawei’s upcoming Mate 30 smartphone at a dizzying disadvantage. Faced with the choice of phones with all the apps they want versus a Huawei phone with a limited offering, it’s pretty clear which phone consumers will go for.

To be sure, Huawei has a backup operating system called Harmony OS, which has the potential to make upcoming Huawei smartphones at least usable. But Huawei faces the gargantuan task of getting app developers to make apps that run on Huawei’s Harmony OS.

Microsoft’s ill-fated Windows Phone has shown that it’s not so easy to get app developers to make apps for an outlying operating system. Windows Phone arguably spiraled out of existence because of a vicious paradox: Windows Phone didn’t have the apps people wanted, so few people bought Windows phones. And since few people were buying Windows phones, app developers didn’t deem it worthwhile to develop apps to run on Windows Phone.

If Harmony OS lacks just one popular app, Huawei’s competition is already more enticing, no matter how good Huawei’s phone looks, how many features it has, or how good its camera might be.

If Huawei doesn’t get off the US blacklist, the company’s smartphone business eventually risks suffering the same fate as Microsoft’s Windows Phone.

Huawei always has the chance to surprise us and prove history wrong with Harmony OS. After all, as the second largest phone maker in the world, Huawei’s smartphone business already has a large following. App developers are surely aware of that, and they, too, would feel the impact of Huawei’s ban from using Google’s Android. Millions of users suddenly won’t be using their apps. If that impact is big enough, they might just make their apps available on the Harmony OS app store.

Huawei’s blacklisted status in the US isn’t necessarily permanent. Trump has indicated that the US government could lift the ban should a trade deal be reached between the US and China. But the trade “war” between the US and China still appears far from resolved, and in the meantime, the fate of Huawei’s smartphone business is uncertain.

Tony Simon

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