The Android Project is an Open Source Project (thus AOSP). Meaning the original Android code is freely available to everyone and can be redistributed or modified. The project is overseen by the Open Handset Alliance (OHA), which is a Google-led coalition of software companies, handset manufacturers wireless carriers, and semi-conductor companies. There’s a total of about 80 companies that are part of the OHA, and Huawei Technologies has been a member of the alliance since December 2008.
Following Huawei’s ban (which is now temporarily put on hold) by the American government from trading with US companies, there’s been a lot of companies that have announced they’re cutting ties with the Chinese company. The biggest of such announcements being Google revoking Huawei’s Android license. Which means Huawei phones going forward (if the ban holds) will lack Google Services. And here’s where a small explanation is needed:
The Open Source Code is open to anyone, and everyone and is a FULL operating system. Google then takes the Open Source Code and builds on top of it a new code base which includes their services allowing regular updates, permission management, access to sensitive data, access to info from Google apps, and so much more. And this is the version of Android that has Google Services – what almost the whole world is used to. Google gives licenses to different manufacturers. But, if you’ve ever seen a Xiaomi phone that runs their Chinese ROM, you understand what lack of Google Services means; no Play Store, lack of certain Google Apps etc.
So, one can say with Google’s revocation of Huawei’s license, we can expect the next batch of Huawei phones to lack Google Services which will mean lacking a lot of stuff including even the YouTube app. However, it is arguable that Google can also completely revoke Huawei from using the Open Source Project code. Which is just vile and hideous.
As an Open Source Project, many people and companies have contributed to Android. Huawei has been one of such contributors. In their statement responding to the Ban, Huawei said, “…we have worked closely… to develop an ecosystem that has benefitted both users and the industry.” This shows you just how sad everything is. And even with the said contingency plans Huawei has, including a stockpile of chips to last months, and a new Operating System, it is not worth ignoring that in the current world we live in, the striking of trade deals can affect how we use our smartphones.
Huawei is the second biggest seller of smartphones, globally, after Samsung. Apple comes in third. And like every other Smartphone seller, with the exception of Apple, Huawei makes the hardware, and then they use Google’s software to power it up. This collaboration is seemingly coming to an end because of trade wars: the US is losing to Huawei in control of 5G infrastructure as Huawei’s equipment is both cheaper, and better. And 5G is very important because 5G powers the whole future as it isn’t backwards compatible; there’s need for a whole new set of network equipment, and whoever provides such first controls the future. The US wants a way into such a future, and wouldn’t want to cede control to a Chinese company. Hence the ban for ‘security reasons’.
As we’ve seen such a ban means even software agreements that have lasted decades stand to be thrown out of the window. If this continues, Huawei may have to resort to another way of powering their upcoming devices. And this doesn’t just augur well with me.
I was for the idea that software control be given to a UN body so that if a company in future comes up with software that powers devices across the world, the security-related bundles of the software, its access, updates, and licenses can only be revoked upon an agreement between everyone who contributes to, and every country where the software is used. And although this seems far-fetched, it is a good way to mitigate against a future where trade wars could jeopardize access to important software like say ones used in saving lives in hospitals.
But this won’t happen anytime soon, or even ever. Meaning, every company that uses open source software needs to be aware of the fact that politics controls access. And everyone is at risk from Samsung to TECNO. So what happens tomorrow morning if the US feels they don’t like BBK Electronics from China? We would be seeing a total ban on all OnePlus, OPPO and VIVO products.
All companies that use Android software and have licenses from Google should know that the foundation upon which their business is built is shaky. It can collapse at any moment, and nothing as at now can be done to protect their existence. Google’s quick reaction and acceptance to withdraw Huawei’s license shows they can do that with any other company across the world whether it hurts them or not. Remember ‘Don’t be evil‘ is no longer their slogan. I feel companies with a global reach should, going forward, only be controlled globally. So that if their business isn’t limited by their geographical location, their policies and business partners shouldn’t be limited by the political landscapes of where they originated from.
Anyway, all this should serve as a wake-up call to the whole tech ecosystem. Maybe the idea of open source software has now completely failed because of trade wars and politics. Maybe from now on, we should look to a future where everyone builds their own OS. Or maybe we should all work on a future where tech that’s co-created/used by people from different parts of the world cannot be limited except by an understanding by a majority of everyone involved.