Embattled Chinese electronics manufacturer Huawei is planning to ship a Russian variant of Jolla’s Sailfish OS on 360,000 tablets intended for use in conducting the Russian population census, according to a Reuters report published Monday.

This project comes as Huawei is looking for alternatives to Android, following their placement on the “Entity List” by the US government, effectively blacklisting the company from acquiring US-origin technology for use in their own products. This blacklisting does not affect Huawei’s ability to use the public, open-source AOSP repository. It does prevent use of Google Play services, through which vital APIs for Google Maps integration in apps is provided—as well as the Play Store, the default Android app store.

SEE: 5G smartphones: A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

TechRepublic first reported the likelihood of Huawei’s adoption of Sailfish OS as a “Plan B” mobile OS in April 2018—more than a year prior to Huawei’s blacklisting by the US government. The “Sailfish China Consortium” was founded in 2017 to “develop Sailfish OS based solutions for secure smartphones, the automotive industry, TV, IoT, and smartwatches.” Huawei announced the microkernel-based HarmonyOS—also known as Hongmeng—in August, which is intended for devices “like smartwatches, smart screens, in-vehicle systems, and smart speakers,” according to ZDNet’s Steve Ranger.

Huawei’s Watch GT, released earlier this year, uses Huawei’s internal “LiteOS,” which “will be merged with HarmonyOS in the future,” a Huawei spokesperson told TechRepublic, though it is unclear if the Watch GT itself will be migrated. CNET reported in August that it has no plans to release a Harmony-powered smartphone in 2019.

Sailfish’s position as the last standing “third pillar” smartphone OS

Sailfish OS is effectively the last remaining “third pillar” smartphone OS, as the duopoly between Android and iOS has squeezed out Windows 10 Mobile, BlackBerry 10, webOS, Firefox OS, and Ubuntu Touch as smartphone operating systems. The latter three live on as smartphone operating systems, as does Samsung’s Tizen OS, which is also used in the Galaxy Watch.

Sailfish OS is a fork of Mer, itself a fork of MeeGo, which was originally a combination of Moblin and Maemo. Following the failed soft-launch of the Jolla Tablet, Jolla exited the hardware market, and continued development of Sailfish OS for licensing to third-party firms, including Rostelecom. Jolla offers direct-to-consumer sales of Sailfish for the Sony Xperia X, Xperia XA2, and Planet Gemini, which includes the Alien Dalvik runtime, providing compatibility with Android apps.

Huawei’s commitment to shipping Sailfish appears strong. “This is a pilot project. We see it as the first stage of launching the Russian OS on Huawei devices,” a source told Reuters.

The extent of Rostelecom’s additional development of Sailfish is unclear, though Jolla’s relatively small team is facing quite an undertaking in bringing Sailfish to feature parity with Android. Sailfish OS 3.1—released in July—added file system encryption, which was added in 2014 with the release of Lollipop.

Sailfish is also in development for the Pinephone, a phone produced by the PINE64 project.

For more, check out “Huawei doesn’t see open source as the fix for spying accusations (but it should)” and “Open source POWER ISA takes aim at Intel and Arm for accelerator-driven computing” on TechRepublic.

Jolla’s Sailfish OS on a Sony Xperia smartphone.
Image: Jolla