Beijing: The biggest casualties in the US-China trade war, which continues with no end in sight, are frustrated smartphone users.
The stance from each side of the Pacific will affect the software technology used on Huawei devices, which uses Google’s Android system, and the presence of Apple’s iPhone and other products in China.
Calls for boycotts on iPhone products grow louder in China and some companies have increased incentives for staff to purchase discounted Huawei phones.
Although uptake of Apple in China is waning, it had a good run.
Observer.com says China is Apple’s largest overseas market, with 17% of their global sales.
Even the founder of Huawei Ren Zhengfei slammed boycott calls, saying he’d be the first to protest an Apple ban. In an interview with Bloomberg, Zhengfei said, “Apple is the world’s leading company”.
“If there was no Apple, there would be no mobile internet. If there was no Apple to help show us the world, we would not see the beauty of this world. Apple is my teacher, it’s advancing in front of us. As a student, why should I oppose my teacher? I would never do that.”
Professor Zhong Xin, who teaches international communication at Beijing’s Renmin University of China (RUC) believes the trade war and boycott calls will push Huawei to create its own system.
“People will still choose what they like. The trade war may not have direct impact on the choice of people. Few may turn to Huawei,” she said.
Zhong said if Huawei was cut off from Android, the company would have to develop its own system.
“There is no choice but to push Huawei to be more independent.”
Studies show smartphone penetration is highest among millennials and students.
Law student at RUC Chiyu Zhang points out that Huawei had an operating system (OS).
“I know Huawei has already had their own operating system, Kirin OS like Android. But this technique is still immature. So whether Huawei will replace Android with its own Kirin OS, time will tell,” said Chiyu, an iPhone user.
“Some people choose to change their phones from Apple to Huawei because of the current trade war. They regard this as patriotic. They want to do something in support of Huawei we should consider it rationally,” he added.
Huawei user and RUC communication student Guo Yixin says the iPhone was not without its flaws.
“(It has) bad phone signals, and automatic shutdown in low temperature (my hometown is very cold in winter).
“Of course, iPhone has advantages, a smooth system and wonderful technology,” she said.
Liu Chen, an undergraduate student at RUC, does not see any major problems arising for phone smartphone use.
“Chinese consumers can still use all kinds of phones. However, it’s hard to predict what effect it will have on Chinese smartphone users if prohibitions and bans exerted by the US last for a longer time,” he said.
While consumers are conflicted by which phones to choose, Chinese-led 5G roll-out plans are steaming ahead.
This week, it was reported that China’s ministry of information technology issued 5G licences to four telecom networks in the country.
In a positive spin-off for African countries, Huawei signed a memorandum of understanding with the AU.
The agreement covers broadband, cloud computing, 5G and artificial intelligence.
The company’s 5G plans in South Africa are well under way.
In a statement to Weekend Argus, Huawei SA said they were working with data-only operator Rain to roll out the latter’s 5G network.
“In 2018 we conducted 5G trials with all major mobile networks in South Africa.
“5G mainstream adoption depends on the maturity of local ecosystems, including new business, new available spectrum, mature LTE network and affordable 5G handsets,” said Huawei SA.
As the trade war between the world’s two largest economies takes hold and smartphone users try to figure out how to keep their cellphones functioning efficiently, and smartphone companies try to mitigate the blow to their profit margins, there is a silver lining for some faster connectivity.
Martin is a fellow in the China Africa Press Centre.