If Intel no longer has Apple's trust, Qualcomm isn't an option yet, and Samsung and Mediatek aren't practical either, Huawei's offer of openness could provide Apple with the components it needs to get a 5G iPhone out in 2020. But could such a deal with Huawei ever actually come together? Based on optical and political considerations, we're inclined to say "probably not." Even so, it isn't hard to see how a working relationship between Huawei and Apple could benefit both companies to some extent.
Broadly speaking, Huawei would gain a lucrative, high-profile customer and open up a totally new revenue stream for itself. And while a 2020 release still wouldn't be certain, having a chipset ready to integrate and test sooner would give Apple more time to work on its 5G iPhone in earnest.
Beyond that, though, a tie-up with Huawei could help how Apple is perceived in one of its most important markets. Earlier this year, Apple CEO Tim Cook stunned media and the markets by revising Apple's iPhone sales guidance down, specifically as a result of a sales slowdown in China. The image of Apple teaming up with Huawei — a political and economic heavyweight in China — would demonstrate that Apple is serious about courting the market's rising consumer class. And were Apple to work with Huawei on a 5G iPhone, it would almost certainly enjoy compatibility with the standalone 5G networks China plans to light up over the next few years.
While a potential Apple-Huawei relationship could prove fruitful, there are, obviously, plenty of reasons why Apple would want to steer clear of a deal like this.
For one, recent reports allege that Huawei targeted has Apple employees and supply chain partners on multiple occasions in a bid to crack the Cupertino company's trade secrets. In one such scenario, Huawei reportedly misled a supplier with news of a potentially lucrative contract in order to learn more about the Apple Watch's heart rate sensor. And beyond that, The Information reported that a former Apple employee who interviewed for a new job at Huawei said it seemed the company was more interested in what they could learn about Apple than in that person as an actual applicant.
There's also little question that Huawei has drawn significant inspiration from Apple when it comes to product design. Though they have garnered generally positive reviews, Huawei's MateBook series of laptops look nearly identical to some of Apple's computers — it can be hard to imagine that Apple would ever want a working relationship with such a blatant copycat.
And then, of course, there are more urgent concerns: the US government has banned use of Huawei equipment by federal agencies and has been campaigning around the world for friendly governments to do the same. Meanwhile, Huawei is suing the United States over that ban and is also dealing with two other lawsuits pertaining to theft of trade secrets, bank fraud and violating trade sanctions in Iran (Huawei has pleaded not guilty to all charges.)
By entering into a deal with Huawei — even if the devices that result from it were only sold in China — Apple could quickly find itself in a difficult situation with the US government. Considering the tenuous relationship that already exists between Apple and the Trump administration, publicly aligning with Huawei might be the last thing Tim Cook would want to do.