Huawei is expected to launch its Mate 30 smartphones, successors to the Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro, on September 18 in Munich, Germany. The unveiling will not be just another smartphone event. The launch will directly test the unintended consequences of the U.S. government’s ban on Huawei products.
There are three possibilities here. Huawei could launch the Mate 30 with Android and Google apps, with Android but no Google apps, or without Android. The first option is unlikely without some sort of intervention — the U.S. government announced a temporary reprieve last week, but it apparently does not apply to new products, according to Reuters.
The second option would be great for the small number of users who want Android, but aren’t fond of Google apps and all their related tracking. Huawei could include the open source version of Android, but it’s not clear many users would buy a phone that would require jumping through hoops to install apps from Google Play.
The third option would be a disaster, for Huawei and for Google. Remember: Google doesn’t make money directly from Android, but it does make money off the Android ecosystem. Ditching Android would likely doom this set of devices. More importantly, though, it would push Huawei away from Google for good.
Google is the biggest loser
“Huawei will continue to use the Android OS and ecosystem if the U.S. government allows us to do so,” a Huawei spokesperson told Reuters. “Otherwise, we will continue to develop our own operating system and ecosystem.”
In other words, Huawei is saying: “If we can’t use Android, that’s fine. You’re forcing our hand, but we do have Hongmeng.”
Huawei’s own operating system — called HarmonyOS in English — is a contingency plan. It’s not ready yet. The company’s alternative is set to ship in China this year and globally in 2020. But even if that goes smoothly, for years HarmonyOS will be a new operating system with no ecosystem. Huawei would obviously prefer Android on its flagship devices, especially ones being unveiled in just three weeks.
The decision is even more crucial for Google. Huawei will continue selling smartphones regardless of what happens with the Mate 30. Google meanwhile stands to lose the world’s biggest smartphone maker — Huawei sold 15% of smartphones in Q2 2019.
It’s not clear what exactly Google can do to save Huawei’s Mate 30. But you can bet the American company is pulling at every string it can find to help its Chinese partner. The Mate 30 and Mate 30 Pro will either be just another set of Android smartphones, or the first of many Huawei phones that hurt Google’s business.
ProBeat is a column in which Emil rants about whatever crosses him that week.