Don’t panic about your Huawei device

Remember how I told you not to panic about having just spent a bucket load of money on your brand new Huawei flagship? Well, it just got a bit trickier after ARM confirmed its suspension of any business with Huawei. That means HiSilicon (Huawei’s in house chipmaker) loses access to ARM cores and compilers. TL;DR: Huawei won’t be able to develop future versions of its ARM-based Kirin processors.

This week’s podcast that I do with TECH magazine editor Gavin Dudley deals with my previous explanations of how the Chinese tech giant can skirt around not having official Android support – by still creating killer hardware that enthusiasts can load custom software onto – but this latest plot twist puts the entire company at risk.

I say the entire company because Huawei network infrastructure and servers all run on some form of ARM intellectual property. You need processors to optimise data transmission and buying power-efficient designs off the shelf is much simpler than developing that technology from scratch. Should all these bans be upheld after the trade war ends – remember that this argument is also about security risks – then it would take significant investment and at least six months for Huawei to climb out of this hell.

But you know how I say that Huawei had it coming? Well, fresh allegations of Huawei stealing trade secrets have just emerged and that seems to be the company’s biggest problem outside of the 5G arms race and US/China trade war. China has always played it loose with intellectual property and its no coincidence that clones of US company hardware are available in Asian markets weeks before the device launch. This, plus the rising import tariffs, cost manufacturers billions per year and the escalating price of Chinese labour doesn’t make the trade-off worth it anymore.

The Cortex A76 core and Mali GPU are all ARM designs.

Think about it. There’s reason why Huawei seem to lead with technologies like implementing a neural processing unit on its processor and then have nothing really unique or amazing to show for it, and then Apple comes to market months later with an eerily similar design, but an entire strategy capitalising on that innovation. I’m not saying Huawei are stealing outright, but, much like the way Samsung did in the early smartphone days, Huawei closed the gap on its US competitor by imitation first.

Even shopping mall activations for the P30 here in South Africa were pretty much direct copies of what Samsung did with the S10 family, even down to the the mirror room Instagram idea. There simply seems to be not much original thought coming out of Huawei since it up-ended the smartphone camera game with the excellent P9 (first dual camera with monochrome for more light, early adopter for USB-C) and upped the ante on AI-assisted resource management with the Mate 9. Yes Android is adopting the Mate 20 Pro’s back gesture in Q, but it is clumsy even on EMUI and Android gesture navigation is a complete mess right now anyway.

ARM is by far the leader in CPU architecture, with Intel’s X86 lagging far behind. Huawei’s other option MIPS is also a US company, along with AMD and Intel. They have no options now, especially since Intel exited the mobile game.

And don’t for one second think that China will retaliate by chasing the US tech companies out of its factories. The economic prosperity is the only thing that Xi Jinping and his cronies in power. Banning Apple from manufacturing in China will certainly ruin the Cupertino company, but also plunge entire Chinese cities into poverty and cost the country thousands of jobs.

Trump is playing an intriguing game right now, like a cyclist trying to break America’s main competitor on a steep incline. For now it seems like the US can endure more suffering, but the ultimate goal of owning the 5G landscape seems a little out of reach, for now. Unless US engineers have been hiding massive advances in networking infrastructure.

Only time will tell who wins in this war, but luckily nothing will affect existing Huawei devices in the short to medium term. And when your next upgrade rolls around there are a ton of other brands that you can choose from should Huawei exit the Android market. Just don’t turn to Sony, please.

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