Huawei losing ARM could ruin its plans to become top phone maker in the world

Huawei's P30 and P30 Pro have arguably the best cameras on any smartphone.
Huawei’s P30 and P30 Pro have arguably the best cameras on any smartphone.

Image: raymond wong / mashable

Huawei can’t seem to catch a break.

Following Google’s recent Android ban and Qualcomm and Intel cutting ties with the Chinese company, more popular tech giants are following suit. Now, UK-based chip designer ARM has also suspended business with Huawei.

Simply put: This is yet another major blow to Huawei that could really hamper the company’s ability to produce future smartphones.

Here’s what we know from earlier this week: Without a proper Android license, Huawei won’t be able to release new phones with the Google Play Store and Google services outside of China. 

This would essentially make new Huawei phones useless in pretty much all of the Western world, where Google’s app store and its services are all but impossible to replace on Android. 

The only competitive alternative for consumers would be to use an Android phone made by a different company (i.e. Samsung or OnePlus) that’s not affected by the U.S. trade ban or jump ship to the iPhone.

It’s worth noting that the Trump administration has eased its ban on Huawei with a 90-day exemption period where the Chinese company can still continue to send software updates to existing device users, but it’s only temporary relief.

Long-term, unless the U.S. and China patch things up, Huawei might have to switch to its own operating system if it’s no longer allowed to use Android. However, the challenge of that would be convincing developers to port their apps over to a new OS.

Switching software away from Android is one thing and it wouldn’t be something that happens overnight, but ARM suspending business with Huawei is arguably a more serious problem for its smartphone business.

Without ARM, Huawei’s own Kirin mobile chips, which are based on the UK chip company’s designs, would effectively be stalled. As the BBC notes, even though Huawei’s mobile chips are produced in China, the underlying technology is “created by ARM.”

The unfortunate reality is that almost all mobile processors are based on ARM’s chip technologies, even Apple’s custom A-series chips found in its iOS devices. 

Even if Huawei manages to switch from U.S. component suppliers to, say, Asian ones for parts like the Corning Gorilla Glass or cellular modems, it’s practically impossible to build a competitive smartphone without a chip that uses ARM tech. Without a chip or “brain,” there is no phone and without new phones, Huawei’s dreams to overtake Samsung as the world’s largest smartphone maker would be dashed, not to mention take a huge chunk out of its revenue.

There are a few ways Huawei could get out of this mess: 1) the U.S. and China come to a trade agreement and everything goes back to normal and the Chinese company’s partners start working with it again 2) Huawei switches all of its component suppliers to non-U.S. ones or 3) Huawei becomes entirely independent and designs and manufactures all of its technologies on its own. The latter would be the most difficult and take years to accomplish and who knows if the effort would be worth it.

If something doesn’t happen soon, the company’s phone business could be set back for years.

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Huawei is developing its own OS in case it’s barred from Android

huawei p30 pro review 10x zoom wide angle

Android is the go-to operating system for anyone who’s not into iOS, but that may not be the case forever. Samsung has been developing its own Tizen OS for some time now, and is even using it on some smartphones. Now, it could be Huawei’s turn: Multiple sources say Huawei is working on an Android alternative.

The latest rumors come from a Weibo post by Chinese magazine Caijing. The post claims the new OS would be capable of running Android apps natively, and it would be flexible enough to be used with smartphones, computers, tablets, TVs, and even cars.

The most notable news is that the OS is rumored to run Android apps natively — which means app developers wouldn’t have to to make significant changes to port their apps over to Huawei’s new operating system. As one of Android’s biggest strengths is its large array of apps, this would lessen the impact significantly, making it easier for users to keep their favorite apps on Huawei’s new OS.

The post points out that recompiling the app for the new OS would offer a performance boost of more than 60% — suggesting the performance of Android apps on the new OS would be less than stellar without recompiling them. However, as a stopgap, it could be significant in getting third-party app support quickly.

It’s the first we’ve heard about Huawei’s operating system since 2018, when a report from the South China Morning Post stated that Huawei had been working on an Android alternative. According to the report, the plan to build a new operating system was set in motion by Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, and was a fail-safe in case of a “worst-case scenario.”

The operating system hasn’t seen the light of day yet because it simply isn’t as good as Android, but another problem with it could be that it doesn’t have enough third-party support, which could well have been solved by the most recent news.

Even if it is developing its own operating system, it’s possible that Google’s apps and services will still be available on it — though that will depend on the operating system itself, and the state of relations between Huawei and the West.

This has been in the cards for some time, with reports extending back many years. In 2012, it was reported that the company was developing an operating system in case it could no longer use Android or Windows Mobile. Since then, Microsoft’s focus has shifted away from Windows Mobile, really leaving only one option — Android.

Why would Huawei make its own operating system?

There are a few reasons an Android alternative might be important for Huawei. For starters, accusations of espionage and involvement with the Chinese government have come to a head, and it’s culminated in the world’s second largest mobile manufacturer being placed on the the United States Department of Commerce’s “Entity List,” meaning only U.S. government-approved suppliers are allowed to supply the Chinese company with parts.

As a result, Google cut its ties with Huawei, ending a long and fruitful relationship. Qualcomm and Intel soon followed suit, and although the U.S. government has relented slightly on the order — setting up a 90-day grace period — there are still rumors that more companies will be cutting ties, with the U.K.’s ARM rumored to be next.

Even without U.S.-China tensions, there are plenty of reasons Huawei might want to explore its own technology. For example, the company may be looking to reduce its dependence on other companies in general — as it has done in its mobile processor business. While it does still use third-party processors, many of its devices use chips built by the company itself.

The company isn’t being all that public about the new operating system just yet. According to a statement from the company, it has “no plans to release its own OS in the foreseeable future.”

Updated on May 22, 2019: More rumors have reached our ears.

Editors’ Recommendations

Huawei vs. U.S.: As trade war escalates, tech companies sit in the crosshairs

huawei p30 pro review 10x zoom wide angle
10X Zoom

Huawei has been placed on the U.S. Department of Commerce’s “Entity List,” prohibiting the company from acquiring parts and components from U.S. companies without the approval of the federal government. This occurred on May 15, and the move is thought to be leverage in the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China.

The situation continues to escalate and alter by the day, with more questions arising. Here’s what you need to know.

ARM

ARM, the U.K- based company that designs the architecture on which most of the world’s mobile and computer chips are produced, has apparently issued instructions to cease working with Huawei, according to leaked documents obtained by the BBC. Despite being in the U.K., and now owned by a Japanese firm, the documents state some of ARM’s technology is of U.S. origin, forcing it to comply with the Department of Commerce’s order.

The instruction doesn’t stop Huawei from making chips now, but it may hurt future chip design and production. Huawei produces its own mobile processors, named Kirin, under a separate arm of the company called HiSilicon. It works closely with ARM on the development of these chips, just like Apple, Qualcomm, and Samsung.

Neither ARM nor Huawei has not commented on the leak.

Google, Qualcomm, and Intel

Google initially suspended most of its partnerships with the Chinese smartphone maker for future products in an effort to comply with a U.S. government ruling. Officials told Reuters that the decision will make it difficult, if not impossible, for Huawei to sell some products due to its reliance on U.S. suppliers. However, to avoid unintended negative consequences to U.S. companies who have been dealing with Huawei, the Commerce Department soon rolled back some of its earlier restrictions on the Chinese telecom firm, according to a Reuters report.

In revising its policy temporarily for 90 days, the U.S. government will allow Huawei to purchase American-made parts and components so that it can maintain existing networks and update existing smartphones. The company is still prohibited from purchasing U.S.-made goods for new products without license approvals — which will likely be denied. The short-term reprieve has been implemented as a temporary general license, in effect until August 19.

A number of significant chipmakers, including Qualcomm and Intel, have supposedly told their employees that they will no longer be supplying Huawei. While Huawei creates its own processors for its smartphones, the company still requires hardware from other manufacturers. Huawei has been stockpiling chips in advance of such an outcome though, and according to Bloomberg, the company had built up a three-month stockpile ahead of the ban.

Huawei response

Honor, sister company to Huawei, released this statement to Digital Trends soon after the ban:

“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 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.”

A Twitter feed from the company called “Huawei Facts” cited an article in Asia Times Monday morning arguing that the bans will not slow Huawei down. Indeed, it’s “full steam ahead.”

Huawei has also issued another statement, saying the ban will do more harm than good:

“This decision is in no one’s interest. It will do significant economic harm to the American companies with which Huawei does business, affect tens of thousands of American jobs, and disrupt the current collaboration and mutual trust that exist on the global supply chain. Huawei will seek remedies immediately and find a resolution to this matter. We will also proactively endeavor to mitigate the impacts of this incident.”

What does it mean to you?

Currently, if you own a Huawei phone, it will work in exactly the same way as it has been doing. Access to the Google Play Store, Play Protect, and other such apps will not be revoked, as confirmed in a tweet from the official Android Twitter account. But it’s rumored that existing Huawei devices are now cut off from future Android updates, which might cause them to lose Play certification. This could make using the Huawei Mate 20 Pro in the Android Q beta a risky choice.

Huawei’s future

The future may be very different for Huawei, should the situation not be resolved. Without the correct Google licenses, which it cannot purchase under the ban, Huawei will lose access to updates for the Android mobile operating system.

Future Huawei devices on Android will also not be able to offer services such as the Google Play Store nor apps such as Gmail, Chrome, and YouTube. That is, unless the situation is resolved. Huawei will still be able to use the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), the open-source public version of Android. But without access to Google’s proprietary apps and services, staying on Android will not make much sense on devices sold outside China.

Huawei has been working on an alternate mobile operating system, a South China Morning Post report from last year claimed, as there were concerns that the company would lose its Android license from Google. The plan was dubbed a “worst-case scenario” — but it appears Huawei may have no choice but to proceed with it in the near future. The operating system is likely similar to that installed on its phones in China, where Google services are banned.

The ban is bad news for phone lovers, as the Chinese manufacturer has been releasing top-notch smartphones such as the P30 Pro, the Mate 20, and the Mate 20 Pro, and although the phones are not officially for sale in the U.S., fans have been able to import them. The U.S. government has previously committed to similar actions against other Chinese companies, most notably in the ZTE ban last year. That ban was eventually lifted, which should give Huawei fans some hope, but it’s no guarantee this situation will play out in the same way.

Updated on May 22: Added leak that ARM has been instructed to cease working with Huawei, re-ordered article

Editors’ Recommendations

DJI will add airplane and helicopter detectors to new drones in 2020

DJI is about to make it harder to fly its drones too close to larger aircraft. The Chinese tech company announced Wednesday that all DJI drones weighing more than 250 grams — which includes every one it currently offers — released in 2020 onward will have built-in airplane and helicopter detectors.

Each of those new drones will now include sensors that can receive the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) signal that planes and helicopters send out. It’s a technology that’s being mandated by the US government for traditional aircraft that fly through a number of controlled airspaces starting January 1st, 2020, and is even used by air traffic controllers for real-time precision and situational awareness.

DJI’s new drones will use this ADS-B detector, which it has branded as “AirSense,” to alert pilots when a plane or helicopter is nearby. Crucially, it won’t automatically cause the drone to move away from the larger aircraft — that will still be up to the pilot.

The Federal Aviation Administration isn’t mandating ADS-B on drones, but DJI already has the tech installed on some of the company’s more professional offerings, like the Matrice 200 and Mavic 2 Enterprise.

There are already plenty of safety-minded features built into DJI’s drones, like obstacle avoidance, geofencing, altitude limits, and the ability to automatically return to the takeoff spot. But these haven’t been enough to stop inexperienced or simply reckless drone pilots from flying too close to — and in some cases, even making contact with — planes and helicopters. The drones will only be able to receive ADS-B signals, though, so they won’t be able to transmit their location to air traffic controllers — meaning that this tech won’t do much to change the handful of (sometimes unconfirmed) reports about nearby drones that have shut down airports.

Google is updating its mobile search design to highlight a website’s name and favicon

Google is introducing some noticeable changes to how it displays mobile search results, meant to better highlight the source behind each link. Mobile search results will soon display a website’s icon and name above the title of the specific page being surfaced. Until now, Google has somewhat downplayed the source of search results, displaying a website’s name in a smaller font beneath each link.

The design will begin rolling out in the “next few days.” Google says the design is “coming first to mobile,” but didn’t elaborate on where we’ll see the new design next, be it specific apps or the desktop. We’ve reached out to Google for clarification.

With the updated design, Google’s mobile search starts to look a lot more like a news feed, filled with posts from various publishers on a specific subject. Emphasizing the source of information makes a lot of sense, particularly as concerns about fake news sources continue. Websites have complete control over their name and icon, but the change could at least help, say, a New York Times link stand out over a link from a disreputable content farm, should Google happen to surface both on the same page.

Google also suggests this design change is something of a stepping stone to creating richer (and busier) search result pages. More and more images and highlighted pieces of information have been appearing directly on the search page, and Google says this new design “allows us to add more action buttons and helpful previews.” It sounds as though search results, which are each displayed as individual cards, are going to become increasingly interactive, letting you do and see more without actually visiting another page.

DuckDuckGo founder Gabriel Weinberg is coming to Disrupt

2019 is the year Facebook announced a ‘pivot to privacy’. At the same time, Google is trying to claim that privacy means letting it exclusively store and data-mine everything you do online. So what better time to sit down at Disrupt for a chat about what privacy really means with DuckDuckGo founder and CEO Gabriel Weinberg?

We’re delighted to announce that Weinberg is joining us at Disrupt SF (October 2-4).

The pro-privacy search engine he founded has been on a mission to shrink the shoulder-surfing creepiness of Internet searching for more than a decade, serving contextual keyword-based ads, rather than pervasively tracking users to maintain privacy-hostile profiles. (If you can’t quite believe the decade bit; here’s DDG’s startup Elevator Pitch — which we featured on TC all the way back in 2008.)

It’s a position that looks increasingly smart as big tech comes under sharper political and regulatory scrutiny on account of the volume of information it’s amassing. (Not to mention what it’s doing with people’s data.)

Despite competing as a self-funded underdog against the biggest tech giants around, DuckDuckGo has been profitable and gaining users at a steady clip for years. It also recently took in a chunk of VC to capitalize on what its investors see as a growing international opportunity to help Internet users go about their business without being intrusively snooped on. Which makes a compelling counter narrative to the tech giants.

In more recent developments it has added a tracker blocker to its product mix — and been dabbling in policy advocacy — calling for a revival of a Do Not Track browser standard, after earlier attempts floundered with the industry, failing to reach accord.

The political climate around privacy and data protection does look to be pivoting in such a way that Do Not Track could possibly swing back into play. But if — and, yes it’s a big one — privacy ends up being a baked in Internet norm how might a pioneer like DuckDuckGo maintain its differentiating edge?

While, on the flip side, what if tech giants end up moving in on its territory by redefining privacy in their own self-serving image? We have questions and will be searching Weinberg for answers.

There’s also the fact that many a founder would have cut and run just half a decade into pushing against the prevailing industry grain. So we’re also keen to mine his views on entrepreneurial patience, and get a better handle on what makes him tick as a person — to learn how he’s turned a passion for building people-centric, principled products into a profitable business.

Disrupt SF runs October 2 – October 4 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Tickets are available here.

The Garmin DriveSmart 61 GPS is $65.99 off at Amazon

Just to let you know, if you buy something featured here, Mashable might earn an affiliate commission.
Got a dad who detests using a smartphone for everything? A Garmin GPS will make a great Father's Day gift.
Got a dad who detests using a smartphone for everything? A Garmin GPS will make a great Father’s Day gift.

Image: garmin/pexels

Google Maps (or Apple Maps — we’re not getting into that argument right now) are fine for finding the quickest way to get to a dinner reservation, but car GPS devices are still best for journeys with more riding on them. (Just ask the New York Times.)

True, the ones with good reviews are few and far between, but they exist. The Garmin DriveSmart 61 GPS Navigator is one of the rare models to have four out of five stars on Amazon, and it’s on sale for $65.99 off. It’s still full price ($249.99) at Garmin.com.

For those road trips or drives to the airport where you cannot afford to get lost, the rechargeable Garmin DriveSmart 61 GPS Navigator can be the directions companion you need. Aside from constantly-updating Lifetime maps, the Drivesmart 61 offers real-time services like live traffic and parking updates, TripAdvisor, and Bluetooth calls. Just sync it with the app on your phone.

Its touchscreen actually responds to your finger and it works with voice commands for hands-free use. For a device under seven inches, the 1024 x 600 display is seriously nice.

Regularly $249.99, you can save $65.99 and get it for $184.

Apple sends out invitations for June 3 WWDC keynote

New versions of Apple’s iOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS platforms will be announced at WWDC 2019, which starts on June 3 and runs through June 7.

Right on cue, the tech giant sent out media invites for its 30th annual WWDC keynote. Like previous years, the developer conference keynote starts at 10 a.m. PT (1 p.m. ET) at the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, California.

The invite is enclosed below and … includes a unicorn?! What could that mean?

Apple is expected to announce updates to its many software platforms with iOS 13, macOS 10.15, and watchOS 6 headlining the keynote.

As always, it’s anyone’s guess what new features Apple will announce and whether or not there will be any hardware announcements. In past years, Apple used WWDC to introduce new MacBook Pros, the iMac Pro, and HomePod.  

Internet leaks, however, might provide some insight into Apple’s plans. Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman shared a trove of information on what to expect from new versions of Apple’s software.

iOS 13

All we really want is dark mode, TBH.

All we really want is dark mode, TBH.

Image: lili sams / mashable

iOS 13, codenamed “Yukon,” will reportedly come with several interface tweaks such as a “new animation when launching multitasking and closing apps” and a redesigned widgets panel. A much-asked for dark mode will also be one of the big new feature. iOS 13 might also include a swipe-based keyboard similar to SwiftKey, revamped Apple apps (Reminders, Apple Books, Maps, Mail, Home, etc.), and more nuanced Screen Time settings.

For iPad, users might be able to use their tablets as a touchscreen display when it’s connected to a Mac. Additional updates to iOS’s interface on iPad for “multi-tasking, tweaks to the home screen, and the ability to cycle through different versions of the same app” are also expected, according to the report.

macOS 10.15

Can we get a new MacBook keyboard, please?

Can we get a new MacBook keyboard, please?

Image: zlata ivleva / mashable

On the Mac, Apple will likely announce macOS 10.15. Bloomberg’s report says the main news will be iPad apps running on the Mac — a feature Apple announced at last year’s WWDC. This year, though, we should see the fruits of its labor and perhaps third-party iPad apps optimized to work on Macs.

A new Apple Music app could also be introduced during the keynote. The app is said to be a standalone app for the company’s streaming music service and lessens the need to use iTunes.

Other features on iOS, such as Screen Time, iMessage stickers and effects, and Siri Shortcuts (to name a few) will reportedly also make their way to the Mac.

If Apple announces any hardware, it could be the long-anticipated Mac Pro redesign first announced and teased in 2017.

watchOS 6

The Apple Watch Series 4 is the most powerful health wearable available.

The Apple Watch Series 4 is the most powerful health wearable available.

Image: lili sams/mashable

As for watchOS 6 for Apple Watch, Apple is said to be planning one of its biggest updates for the smartwatch yet.

Bloomberg says Apple will finally give the Apple Watch its own App Store instead of having users install Watch apps via connected iOS devices.

Along with several new watch faces, Apple will reportedly add more “complications” to make it easier to view glance-able app data from right on watch faces. 

The Apple Watch is also expected to get a new Apple Books app for listening to audio books, a calculator app, two new health apps (one for reminding users to take their medicine and another to track menstrual cycles), and Animoji and Memoji stickers.

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They Put Celebs in the Baby Filter

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The future of AT&T is an ad-tracking nightmare hellworld

There’s a long, excellent profile of the new AT&T and its CEO Randall Stephenson in Fortune today, which you should read. AT&T has transformed itself into a media colossus by buying Time Warner, and understanding how the company plans to use its incredible array of content from HBO, CNN, TNT, and others in combination with its huge distribution networks across mobile broadband, DirecTV, and U-verse is important for anyone who cares about tech, media, or both. Seriously, go read it.

Here’s the part I want you to pay attention to: two quick paragraphs describing how AT&T sees the future of advertising across those media properties and networks. It’s the same plan AT&T has laid out before, but it’s more specific now, and that specificity makes it chilling. I’ve bolded the scary part:

“Say you and your neighbor are both DirecTV customers and you’re watching the same live program at the same time,” says Brian Lesser, who oversees the vast data-crunching operation that supports this kind of advertising at AT&T. “We can now dynamically change the advertising. Maybe your neighbor’s in the market for a vacation, so they get a vacation ad. You’re in the market for a car, you get a car ad. If you’re watching on your phone, and you’re not at home, we can customize that and maybe you get an ad specific to a car retailer in that location.”

Such targeting has caused privacy headaches for Yahoo, Google, and Facebook, of course. That’s why AT&T requires that customers give permission for use of their data; like those other companies, it anonymizes that data and groups it into audiences—for example, consumers likely to be shopping for a pickup truck—rather than targeting specific individuals. Regardless of how you see a directed car ad, say, AT&T can then use geolocation data from your phone to see if you went to a dealership and possibly use data from the automaker to see if you signed up for a test-drive—and then tell the automaker, “Here’s the specific ROI on that advertising,” says Lesser. AT&T claims marketers are paying four times the usual rate for that kind of advertising.

So, yeah. This is a terrifying vision of permanent surveillance.

In order to make this work, AT&T would have to:

  • Own the video services you’re watching so it can dynamically place targeted ads in your streams
  • Collect and maintain a dataset of your personal information and interests so it can determine when it should target this car ad to you
  • Know when you’re watching something so it can actually target the ads
  • Track your location using your phone and combine it with the ad-targeting data to see if you visit a dealership after you see the ads
  • Collect even more data about you from the dealership to determine if you took a test-drive
  • Do all of this tracking and data collection repeatedly and simultaneously for every ad you see
  • Aggregate all of that data in some way for salespeople to show clients and justify a 4x premium over other kinds of advertising, including the already scary-targeted ads from Google and Facebook.

If this was a story about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, this scheme would cause a week-long outrage cycle. It is outrageous, especially when you consider that AT&T also routinely hands over customer information to the government, is under investigation for illegally selling customer location data to shady third parties, and is generally about as protective of your data as a hotel front desk guarding a bowl of mints.

AT&T can claim up and down that it’s asked for permission to use customer information to do this, but there is simply no possible way the average customer has ever even read their AT&T contracts, let alone puzzled out that they’re signing up to be permanently tracked and influenced by targeted media in this way. People are already convinced that Facebook is secretly listening to them through their phones; if you explicitly offered them the choice of AT&T tracking everything they watch and everywhere they go, it’s a safe bet that they would say no.

In fact, this plan might sound broadly familiar to you because it is largely similar to the plan former AOL CEO Tim Armstrong proposed to Verizon when he combined AOL and Yahoo under the Oath brand at that carrier: build an ad network on the billions of page views served by Oath properties, combine that data with Verizon’s network data, and sell better-targeted ads at a premium. (I also called that plan a nightmare at the time, you’ll recall.)

You know why that never worked out? Verizon executives refused to turn over the network data, citing customer privacy. To repeat: Verizon, which aggressively tracks customers using unremovable supercookies, thought a plan like this was a step too far.

Maybe AT&T should compete with Verizon on that front, instead of putting Iron Thrones in their cellphone stores.