The partnership came to a screeching halt in May this year, when the U.S. Department of Commerce added Huawei and 68 affiliate companies to its “Entity List,” which means U.S. firms are banned from doing business with them, unless granted government approval.
Since May, interactions between the two companies have been limited to “meetings or calls accompanied by lawyers who ensure that any communication is in compliance with the sanctions,” according to The Information.
Prior to the U.S. sanctions, Huawei was working with Google on a new Huawei-branded smart speaker that would be unveiled at the IFA consumer electronics trade show in Berlin this September.
The speaker, powered by Google Assistant, was aimed at markets outside of China, according to The Information.
“We worked on this project with Google for a year and made a lot of progress. Then everything suddenly stopped,” said a Huawei employee who declined to be named.
The Chinese tech giant’s first smart speaker, AI Cube, released in Europe and powered by Amazon’s Alexa, was a flop, according to unnamed Huawei employees. By teaming up with Google, Huawei was seeking to become a global maker of smart speakers.
The partnership predated the smart speaker. According to The Information, Huawei sent as many as 100 of its employees to work at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California for the development of Google’s Nexus 6P smartphone in 2015.
Nexus 6P is a smartphone developed and marketed by Google and manufactured by Huawei. Printed on the phone’s back cover are the logos of Nexus and Huawei.
Huawei engineers worked side by side with their Google counterparts, designing the Nexus 6P’s display, camera, and other features.
“Google engineers are very talented in software design. We asked many questions and learned a lot,” said an unnamed Huawei engineer who worked on the Nexus 6P.
The close partnership on the Nexus 6P eventually led to more business discussions, including talks of making Huawei phones compatible with Android Auto, a mobile app that connects smartphones and cars, according to The Information, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter.
There were also top-level exchanges between the two companies’ executives since the Nexus cooperation, according to the Information.
Since 2014, Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s Consumer Business Group, and Hiroshi Lockheime, a senior vice president at Google and the company’s Android chief, have “met regularly to discuss their work together.” The two held a meeting during the world’s largest mobile event, Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona this past February.
Google’s relationship with China has been under close scrutiny since last year, when media uncovered that Google was developing a censored search engine, known as Dragonfly, specifically for the China market. The move drew widespread criticism, given that the Chinese regime operates a strict censorship apparatus and has punished citizens for accessing forbidden content.
Google executive Karan Bhatia, speaking at a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on July 16, said that the Dragonfly project has been terminated, according to BBC.
On July 26, U.S. President Donald Trump took to Twitter to express his concerns about Google’s relationship with China.
“There may or may not be National Security concerns with regard to Google and their relationship with China. If there is a problem, we will find out about it. I sincerely hope there is not!!!” Trump wrote on Twitter.