Huawei’s New OS Could Launch in Q3

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Huawei confirms it has built its own operating system just in case US tensions disrupt use of Google’s Android

Unfortunately or fortunately, being put on a U.S. Department of Commerce blacklist has a way of forcing a company’s hands.

Huawei could reportedly introduce a new operating system (OS) because it’s being cut off from core aspects of the Android and Windows platforms on which it previously relied. A number reports have claimed Huawei plans to make the switch soon, and the latest reportedly came from Chinese newspaper Global Times, which said it could debut in 3Q19.

Huawei Technologies, the largest smartphone vendor in China, said it has developed its own operating systems (OS) for both smartphones and computers, which can be used on its devices in the event that current systems provided by US technology giants are no longer available.

A previous US ban on Chinese telecommunications equipment maker ZTE from using American products and services served as a reality check for China’s technology ambitions. Google’s Android and Apple’s proprietary iOS have a stranglehold on smartphone operating systems, accounting for 99.9 per cent of the global market, according to Gartner estimates last year.

Interestingly, Huawei started building its own operating system after a US investigation into Huawei and ZTE Corp back in 2012.

Although times have changed since 2012 when a small group of international brands dominated the smartphone market and Huawei had less than a 5% share of the global market. The Chinese company is now the world’s second-biggest smartphone supplier having shipped a total of 206 million smartphones in 2018, according to IDC data, with nearly half of that number going to overseas markets.

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Over the years, there has been a long line of developers and operating systems seeking to break the OS duopoly; Microsoft with its Windows Mobile OS, Samsung Electronics with its Tizen system and Nokia’s Symbian platform. Android and Apple’s iOS still have a virtual duopoly today. Amidst all this, Huawei equips all its smartphones with the popular Android system, owned by Google, and its laptop products with Windows OS, owned by Microsoft.

Having an alternative OS has likely taken on added urgency though for Huawei between escalating trade tensions between the US and China. The company being the world’s biggest telecommunications network equipment supplier, is also facing a string of charges from the US, including that the company stole trade secrets, violated economic sanctions and concealed its Iran business dealings via an unofficial subsidiary.

Huawei has repeatedly and vehemently denied these allegations, accusing the US of lacking evidence.The OS issue took on extra urgency after the US government placed Huawei and its affiliates on a trade blacklist that restricts the company from buying services and parts from US companies without approval in mid-May.

Google and Microsoft, whose Android and Windows software Huawei largely relies upon in its smartphones, tablets and laptops, have both suspended access for new Huawei devices.

The Trump administration has since given companies a 90-day window to adjust to the new restrictions until supplies are completely blocked. The Chinese company has finally had to acknowledge its long-secret plans for an alternative OS. In the meantime, chipmakers including Qualcomm, Intel, and Xilinx are reportedly halting sales of technology (paywall) to Huawei. The embattled Chinese company has responded by stockpiling chips and components and ramping up its development of alternatives.

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The Huawei OS is based on a microkernel that is light and can react quickly to adjustments and batches, according to the people with knowledge on it. Huawei engineers on the OS project have also studied Android and Apple’s iOS closely to learn from them.

During development the compatibility with Android has been one of the biggest technical challenges for the Huawei OS. Compatibility would enable a Huawei phone with its own OS to download and run Android apps seamlessly. Having a successful compatibility layer with Android would also mean that app developers around the world will not need to develop extra code for Huawei’s OS.

According to public trademark information, Huawei registered the brand name “Huawei Hongmeng” last year in China, leading to speculation that this could be the name of the OS. This translated into English is “primordial world”.

Separately, according to public records for trademarks, the company applied to register “Huawei Ark OS” through the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) at the end of May for the OS and other software. Global Times says that Huawei is planning to unveil the new OS as early as August or September 2019.  The company seems to be testing two versions of the OS – one for the Chinese market and the other for the international market.

Despite the company repeatedly saying that it didn’t want to switch from its current OSes, TechRadar reported on May 28 that Huawei’s platform could debut as early as June, per Huawei Enterprise Business Group Middle East managing director and vice president Alaa Elshimy. 

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Questions remain though over potential user experience issues and whether overseas customers will actually want a phone without popular Google apps. Huawei does not have a solid commercial release date yet, we will just have to be patient to see how this turns out for them.