By now the world knows about Huawei’s Google ban, and a subsequent temporary reprieve from the US government, which allowed it to gain access to Google’s Android software in order to keep existing devices updated.
However, according to news reports, the veteran chip company Arm is also cutting ties with the Chinese firm. That is a far bigger cause of worry for Huawei than losing Google’s services.
Why does Arm matter?
Arm can be considered the lifeline of the smartphone industry. It’s responsible for the inner workings of a vast majority of smartphones. The company’s architecture and instruction sets are licensed by everyone in the industry. How your smartphone thinks and processes things is all thanks to Arm’s technology.
Arm is also responsible for designing CPUs and GPUs that are used in the majority of phones. Apart from Apple, almost every mobile chip maker licenses Arm’s CPU and/or GPU designs for its own processors – whether it’s Qualcomm, Huawei’s HiSilicon chip unit, MediaTek, or Samsung’s Exynos. Arm is everywhere; in your Samsung Galaxy, Google Pixel, Huawei device, and just about any other Android brand you can think of right now.
Basically, this means Huawei has just lost the technology that it needs to make a modern-day smartphone.
According to a report by BBC, Huawei will still be allowed to manufacture existing chipset designs (such as the mid-range Kirin 710 and high-end Kirin 980). The report adds that Huawei’s next-generation chipset, the Kirin 985, might not be affected either.
What can Huawei do now?
Huawei doesn’t really have many solutions without Arm’s technology. The only possibility is that Huawei will start using some other chip maker’s processors, like Samsung’s or MediaTek, since they all have Arm licenses. However, that also means that Arm will have to take action against those companies in order to enforce the US order.
Another possibility is that Huawei makes its own CPU and GPU, but they would need to use an alternative architecture to x86 and Arm. However, there aren’t any other architectures out there that are compatible with Android in the first place. Plus, it will probably take years of planning to build it.
While Huawei can work around the loss of Google, unfortunately for the company, it cannot do anything about the loss of hardware needed to make a phone. Will this spell the end? Only Arm will tell.