Business Insider Edition

If you own a Huawei phone in South Africa, here is everything you need to know about the Google crisis

Phillip de Wet , Business Insider SA
 May 22, 2019, 03:00 PM

News analysis

Google and Huawei
  • Trouble with the US government could extend to Huawei's entire line of phones, from the P20 and P30 to the Huawei Mate and the cheaper Honor smartphone brand.
  • Users of these phones are not being affected directly yet, but their future access to Android and apps such as Google Maps is uncertain.
  • Early indications are that Huawei smartphones may be a little more hard to find on shelves in South Africa. 
  • But if you buy a Huawei smartphone now and plan to use for a couple of years, you may end up using a different operating system, and you may want to learn about sideloading.
  • For more stories, go to

Last updated on 7 June.

Chinese phone giant Huawei has run into some trouble with the government of the United States of America, which in turn caused trouble in its relationship with Google, which in turn could come to affect every one of what is estimated to be millions of Huawei users in South Africa.

Though we don't yet know exactly how, or when, and we aren't yet certain about some other things too.

The situation is complex, and fluid, and clouded by politics. That is particularly bad news for anyone who has just invested in a Huawei handset, or needs to decide whether to buy Huawei.

Here's what you need to know about Huawei in South Africa, now that it is subject to American trade restrictions.

Facebook's ban on Huawei installing its apps don't hit South African users – yet

Facebook has reportedly banned Huawei from pre-installing its apps on phones before they are sold. That will affect not only the Facebook app, but also WhatsApp and Instagram.

For South African users that represents only a minor inconvenience for now: instead of getting a handset that has those apps installed right out of the box, they will have to go to the Google Play Store to find them. When a South African user downloads the apps, the legal relationship is between that user and Facebook, so Huawei doesn't come into it, and after installation everything will work as usual, including updates.

The real trouble will start if Huawei loses access to the Google Play Store. If users can't access Facebook apps via Google, and if Huawei is banned from hosting those apps on its own download platform, customers will have to deal with the tricky business of side-loading apps, or forego the Facebook services on their phones.

See also: Facebook just banned Huawei, but you’ll still be able to use WhatsApp and Instagram on Huawei phones in South Africa – for now

South Africa is not following the US political line on Huawei – and local operators could become even bigger fans of the Chinese company.

The South African government has no beef with Huawei, it told Business Insider. Despite America's big diplomatic pull, SA is not alone in that: India reportedly refused to ditch Huawei in the face of US pressure, and even close US allies the UK said it still had an appetite for the 5G technology Huawei could deliver.

That means Huawei will be able to ship phones into South Africa without any extra hassle, and operate exactly as it did before, at least for the foreseeable future, with no new regulatory trouble.

Huawei's most important customers in South Africa are the mobile phone operators MTN, Vodacom, Telkom, and Cell C. If they were to lose faith in Huawei, its South African handset sales could be massively affected, with a knock-on effect on the availability of support and repair services.

But like the SA government, SA's network operators remain fans of Huawei, at least for now. And in a scenario where Huawei pushes hard to introduce its App Gallery marketplace as an alternative to the Google Play Store – and shares App Gallery revenues with the operators – its relationship with the mobile operators would only be strengthened.

See also: Huawei crisis: South African government won’t ‘discriminate’


Here’s how MTN, Vodacom, Cell C, and Telkom could end up making (possibly rather a lot of) money out of Huawei’s Android crisis

Your South African Huawei device could end up running a slightly different version of Android in future, or an OS apparently named 'Hong Meng' – which could make some things tricky.

If Huawei can't do business with Google, then Huawei won't have access to the full commercial version of Android, which requires a contractual relationship.

In that scenario Huawei has two options: switch to the open-source version of Android, which anyone can use without a contract, or switch to its own operating system (OS), which may or may not be based on that open-source version of Android.

Huawei has reportedly been developing its own OS, named "Hong Meng", for some years, though details – including whether Hong Meng is actually ready for use – are still scarce. 

To complicate matters further, Huawei (like many major manufacturers) runs its own interface on top of Android, giving its phones that distinctive Huawei look and feel. That interface is called EMUI, and could be adapted for use on top of open-source Android or on top of Hong Meng.

The effect would be that your Huawei phone would look very much like it always had, though with some key differences. The most notable would be the absence of Google apps like Google Maps and YouTube, which are not open source.

There are ways around that; you can "sideload" applications, including Google's apps, on to any Android phone. So if Huawei sticks with some form of Android, you could still use Google Maps, after you find a trustworthy source for the APK download you need, figure out which version is right for your phone, turn off the protection against unauthorised software installation on your phone, and side-load the app. Oh, and then you'll probably have to keep that app updated manually too.

(Rumour sites say Hong Meng too will be compatible with Android applications, but that is nothing more than rumour right now.) 

See also: Huawei developed a 'plan B' operating system for smartphones in case it was banned by the US government from using Google products. Here's what we know about it so far.

The US government changed its mind about Huawei in a matter of days – so things could change again.

Huawei was locked out of its relationship with Google because it was named by the Trump administration as a potential risk to American national security. Legally, Google was banned overnight from doing things such as share technology (including software) with Huawei, or letting Huawei know when it discovers a security hole in the Android system that Huawei should patch on its phones.

But just days later those restrictions were lifted under a "temporary licence" that runs for 90 days.

The turnaround is in part due to the way American bureaucracy works – but US President Donald Trump famously likes to keep his opponents in negotiations off balance, and the Huawei ban comes in the middle of a weird trade war between the US and China.

The upshot: expect more rational irrationality, and perhaps plain old irrationality too, which could influence how your Huawei device works in future.

See also: Huawei just caught a break: The US government has temporarily loosened its restrictions

You're going to have a hard time claiming a refund for a Huawei phone because you're worried about the future

If you bought a Huawei smartphone prior to 16 May, you could have fairly expected full use of the Google mobile suite of applications: the Google Play Store with its millions of applications, Google Maps, YouTube, Gmail, Google Photos, and the like.

That will still be true – until at least mid-August 2019, under a US regulation that temporarily lifted parts of the restrictions the American government had imposed.

After August, all bets are off. Does that mean you can demand a refund?

Not so much, the experts tell us. You could end up without functionality you were counting on, but that wouldn't be Huawei's fault, or the fault of whoever sold you that Huawei device in South Africa. That leaves you without a legal leg to stand on.

See also: Some South African Huawei owners are hoping to get a refund. Good luck with that.

If you have your eye on a Huawei P30 Pro, or the new Honor P20 Pro, order it early.

A Business Insider South Africa survey of cellphone shops around the country found managers who no longer intend to stock lots of Huawei phones. For now, they say, consumers are petty much buying the likes of the Huawei Mate line as usual, but that could change and they don't want to be stuck with boxes full of phones they can't move.

Because those stores will order on demand, it may take a couple of days to get your hands on the Huawei phone you want, so keep that in mind.

See also: A little panic in Polokwane but mostly calm in PE: here’s how South African customers are reacting to Huawei’s trouble

Huawei's upcoming Mate X folding phone, and the Mate 30 Pro flagship, were expected to be big hits. Now, not so much.

Huawei shipped 10 million units of the Mate 20 in six months – helping it surpass Apple to become the second biggest maker of cellphones in the world, with a real chance of challenging Samsung for the top spot.

There were high expectations of the upcoming Huawei Mate 30 flagship, and thanks to the disaster that was the launch of the Samsung Fold, it looked like the foldable Huawei Mate X could establish the Chinese company as the leader in that hot new category.

Now analysts are wondering just how heavily sales of the new Huawei models will be hit by consumer worries that they won't have full Google service.

See also: US restrictions on Huawei spell big, global trouble for its upcoming Mate X and Mate 30 handsets

This article will be updated as the Huawei crisis unfolds.

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