Phones made and sold in China must stop using Google Android by 2025. To be clear, Chinese-made models for international markets may continue to use Google Android. This is a highly disruptive decision with profound implications for the West.
It is all part of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Made In China 2025 edict (MIC 2025). This ensures no reliance on ‘western’ technology and Intellectual Property (IP) past 2025. It means that every component must be of Chinese design (indigenous innovation) and manufacture (self-sufficiency) – no international IP at all. That means screen, processors, ram, storage, modem, sensors, batteries, and operating systems – the whole kit and caboodle.
To that end, China has been ramping up component design and manufacture to satisfy its 3.3 billion strong market. To give credit, it is rapidly closing the quality and performance gap on both ‘bread and butter’ and premium components. We won’t go down the IP rabbit hole except to say that most of the ‘indigenous innovation’ was in conjunction with Western joint ventures or mystically appeared and is protected by China’s deeply complex sovereign and IP laws.
The Google Android operating system is the last MIC 2025 hurdle for Chinese smartphones to meet the deadline. And it is fair to say that the US Entities List ban on Huawei not being able to source US tech and the Google Android OS was the impetus for what is to come.
But the implications have far more profound consequences for the West than the East, which can’t use Google services anyway.
Whether the components are made in Dongguan or Dubbo makes little difference to an end user on a hardware front. The 64-bit ARM (and later) processor is here for a good while. Even Huawei’s Kirin chips are ARM-based. As long as they run both the Chinese OS for China markets and Google Android OS for the West, we need not be too concerned.
The software front is where the problems lie.
Huawei countered the US Entitles ban by quickly making a fork of the Android Open-Source Project (AOSP). Its Harmony OS V1 used an older, free, open-source Android. It does not have any Google Services and apps. So, it had to start the Huawei Gallery (its app store) and entice Android developers to compile for Harmony OS.
That works fine in China, where Google services are banned but no so in the West, where we all rely on a homogeneous Google Android OS and app ecosystem. All mainstream Android devices in the West license Google Play services to provide essential smartphone functionality while also having access to Google’s Play Store, Chrome browser, Maps, Search, and all the application programming interfaces (APIs) that we need to use the phone around the Westen world.
UIs are morphing
Now we see the BBK family (OPPO, vivo, realme, OnePlus, IQ) facing the same MIC 2025 edict. At first, this was to place a User Interface (UI) over Google Android like ColorOS (OPPO), FunTouch (vivo), realme UI (realme), iQ00 (IQ), OxygenOS (OnePlus). Other brands did the same – Flyme (Meizu), MiFavor (ZTE), MiUi (Xiaomi), TCL UI (TCL and Alcatel), ZUI (Lenovo and Motorola) and many more.
These all have underlying Google Android (whatever version) and can use Google Play (where it is not region blocked) for apps. But, the MIC 2025 UI generation will be different.
These UIs are starting to morph into Google Android replacements. Vivo has launched OriginOS and OnePlus its HydrogenOS for Chinese markets. These add dozens of enhancements and widgets to replace Google Android iconography and capability. It also allows these UI to quickly swap from Google Android to another underlying OS (should they wish to change). BTW – there is even a new name for this – deplatforming.
Not to mention that most are now making China-specific versions of phones with higher Chinese component counts. It is a fact of life if they are to meet MIC 2025. But it may spell the end of US chips like Qualcomm in Chinese markets.
Chinese Android phones don’t really run superficial skins anymore; they run whole new operating systems that happen to support Google Android apps.
Enter Harmony OS to China’s rescue
Huawei’s Harmony OS – originally an AOSP base – appears to have migrated rather quickly to its own ‘micro-kernel’ V2 system not necessarily based on Android or Linux (it won’t say).
The CCP recommends Harmony OS V2 for smartphones and its LiteOS for IoT. Widely reported sources state BBK, Xiaomi, and Meizu might have no alternative but to use Harmony OS in China. Why? Because the CCP says so and practically it may be the first to support the new range of home-grown Silicon chips designed and made there.
Huawei’s Harmony OS could relegate Google Android to obscurity, and that is not a good thing. Huawei’s sights are also set firmly on Apple iOS. The CCP has an uneasy truce with Apple that keeps its manufacturing in China. But it wants the level of command and control that it exerts over Harmony OS. Perhaps that is the next battle.
For starters, any royalties paid for Google Android will stop flowing from nearly 50% of its market.
MIC 2025 is a serious edict that could split the world into two – 3.3 billion Chinese in that market versus 4.3 billion in what we loosely term the West. It will royally screw manufacturing economies of scale. It is already seeing BBK move international operations to factories in India, Russia and looking to the Asia Pacific. The OPPO Reno sub-brand so popular here was developed in India.
And it is not just about smartphones but any consumer electronics with hardware and software. TVs, routers, smart speakers, Home Automation, and so much more are caught in the net.
If you are paranoid (a little is healthy), you begin to see that MIC 2025 is the CCP’s way to complete control of its citizen’s thoughts, words, and deeds. Already Chinese market phones must have several apps, including the Great Nation app (high-tech version of Mao Zedong’s ‘Little Red Book’ ) and its own WeChat communications apps permanently installed. All data must be stored in Chinese based clouds, and the result is complete control. It can track every citizen via the phone. You can’t even get a phone number or internet access without an irrefutable ID.
If the Chinese OS jumps to the West and starts eating Google Android market share, we go back to the bad old days where Android fragmentation (the number of different Android versions in use) nearly destroyed this excellent open-source OS.
On the other hand, if we want to continue to use Qualcomm and Samsung chips and Google Android-based smartphones, the lower economies of scale will see prices rise.