Huawei’s U.S. troubles jumpstart push for new mobile operating systems

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Huawei press conference ces 5jan2019

With the impact of a U.S. trading ban growing, Huawei launched its own operating system, initially aimed at Internet of Things devices but with the potential to compete with Android in the mobile phone ecosystem. Branded HarmonyOS (and called Hongmeng in China) it is designed to be lightweight and very secure. Huawei isn’t installing it in its smart phones, but that could change.

A deep dive into Huawei’s relationship with Google by The Information’s Juro Osawa highlights how Chinese companies have flirted with developing independent operating systems, but ultimately backed away from investing in a risky corporate strategy that could find no executive champions…

In 2016, a top Huawei executive passed on an opportunity to partner with the maker of an Android alternative called Sailfish, seeing little need for a Plan B…

After the meeting, [Huawei consumer division chief Richard] Yu didn’t follow up on the idea of working with Jolla. He showed little interest in an alliance with another maker of operating systems.

But even though interest in reducing dependence on operating systems controlled by foreign companies is now coming from the Chinese government, according to Osawa’s article, Huawei didn’t take the threat seriously…

“In China, companies that supply products to the government are under growing pressure to use domestic software as well as hardware,” said Canalys analyst Nicole Peng. “Major Chinese tech companies like Huawei are feeling obliged to develop their own homegrown operating systems.”

Huawei’s renewed effort to develop its own OS was halfhearted, prompted in part by the company’s need to conform to Beijing’s homegrown software push…few executives viewed it as an Android replacement because the chances of Google ending its work with the Chinese company seemed remote.

Huawei lost that bet, and is now trying to play catch up. The result could a further isolation of technology and online services behind national firewalls. Or it might be the impetus the industry needs to finally break out of operating system architectures that were drafted nearly fifty years ago.