Mobility

Huawei developing own mobile OS in case it gets banned from using Android

Reports indicates that in-house OS development started in 2012, though many other companies have failed to create a third major mobile OS option.

Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
  • Since 2012, Huawei has been internally developing a competing mobile OS a contingency for "worst-case scenarios."
  • Starting this month, ZTE was banned from purchasing components and software from US vendors for seven years, which may include parts of Android.

A report in the South China Morning Post (SCMP) indicates that Huawei has been developing its own OS for phones, tablets, and PCs in the event that the company loses the ability to distribute Android or Windows. Huawei, the third-largest smartphone manufacturer globally according to IDC, entered that market in 2012, the same year the SCMP report indicates development of the OS began.

The report indicates that the OS is being developed as a contingency for "worst-case scenarios" and that Huawei "has not released the OS because it is not as good as Android, and the system does not have many third-party apps developed for it." The likelihood that Huawei would need to deploy it, however, is non-zero.

Earlier this month, ZTE was banned from purchasing components and software from US vendors for seven years. As noted by our sister site CNET, a report suggests that this prohibits Google from licensing proprietary Android components such as the Google Play Store to the company, making it effectively impossible for ZTE to sell Android phones even if the company can procure materials. Half of ZTE's phones are powered by processors produced by the American firm Qualcomm, which is presently prohibited from providing parts to ZTE. Similarly, the Nikkei Asian Review reported that the Taiwan-based Mediatek has suspended shipments following an order from the government requiring companies to submit application forms to sell to ZTE.

SEE: Network security policy (Tech Pro Research)

Huawei, which manufactures its own CPUs for certain smartphones, such as the flagship P20, would be more readily able to survive in the event the United States issues a similar ban resulting in the company losing the ability to sell Android-powered smartphones. While the SCMP report indicates that the OS also runs on PCs, how this would impact the Intel-powered MateBook line of notebook PCs is unclear.

As Chinese companies, Huawei and ZTE have been under intense scrutiny since 2012, following the release of a House Intelligence Committee report concluding that "the risks associated with Huawei's and ZTE's provision of equipment to U.S. critical infrastructure could undermine core U.S. national-security interests." In effect, this accused the pair of being complicit parties to espionage conducted by the Chinese government, a claim repeated in 2013 by former NSA chief Gen. Michael Hayden. At that time, Hayden was on the board of Motorola Solutions, a competitor that paid a settlement to Huawei to settle an IP dispute.

Many companies have tried and failed to develop a "third pillar" of mobile operating systems. According to a recent Gartner report, phones not running Android or iOS comprised just 0.1% of the mobile market in 2017. Microsoft ceased active development of Windows 10 Mobile in October 2017, leaving OEMs with practically no Android alternative. Similarly, BlackBerry announced in October 2015 that active development of BB10 was coming to an end as the company transitioned to selling secure Android phones.

Other mobile OSes have since been repurposed. WebOS, which once powered smartphones for Palm, and later HP, is now the platform for Smart TVs and appliances from LG. Tizen serves a similar purpose for Samsung, though is also used for the company's Gear smartwatches, and for a line of budget smartphones in India.

Presently, the only actively developed "third pillar" OS is Sailfish, by the Finnish firm Jolla—founded in 2011 by ex-Nokia employees working on the MeeGo project. Jolla announced the "Sailfish China Consortium," last year, which purportedly planned to create a "Sailfish OS based independent mobile operating system for the territory of China," though no product has ever shipped as a result of this project.

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Image: Andrew Hoyle/CNET

About James Sanders

James Sanders is a Writer for TechRepublic. Since 2013, he has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research.

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