Huawei said to be working on new mobile OS – good luck with that

A recent report suggesting Chinese networks and smartphone giant Huawei is developing a mobile OS as an alternative to Android has caused excitement, but such a thing is unlikely to succeed.

The report was from tech website The Information, which keeps all its content behind a strict paywall, offering only teasers for free. But among the freely-available reporting is the following passage: “And to hedge its bets against Google’s control of Android, Huawei is also secretly developing an alternative mobile operating system, according to three people briefed about the project.”

This information formed part of a broader piece examining Huawei’s recruitment of an Apple designer to overhaul the software ‘skin’ it places on top of basic Android in its smartphones. This is viewed as one of the few areas of potential differentiation for smartphone vendors, but it needs to strike a delicate balance as gratuitous, gimmicky additions can be more annoying than useful.

This seems to be a rehash of a story that’s been doing the rounds for at least a year. In May 2015 GizmoChina not only made the same claim, but even named it as Kirin OS, coinciding with the Huawei-made smartphone SoC of the same name. The same publication jumped on this latest iteration, and noticed the Huawei CEO had said via his Weibo account that Huawei will keep using Android so long as Google keeps it ‘open’. A tweet from the author of the original story appeared to corroborate this account.

It seems likely that Huawei wants Google to know it’s actively exploring alternatives to Android, to help the internet giant resist the temptation to control the platform even more than it already does. Timely press reports are an efficient way of doing this.

There have been a few attempts by smartphone vendors to use their own platforms in recent years and the potential advantages are clear. Right now most of the commercial activity conducted by the smartphone user after the initial purchase is controlled by the platform owner, rather than the hardware vendor. Switching to its own mobile OS would restore control of that dynamic to the vendor and potentially offer both a recurring revenue stream and increased brand loyalty.

The best example of this has been Samsung, which desperately wanted to make a go of its Tizen OS, but eventually realised that there was little market demand for an alternative to Android (apart from iOS). Even Microsoft, with its deep pockets and acquisition of Nokia’s handset business, couldn’t break the duopoly.

So it’s hard to see, if this rumour is true and Huawei is serious about developing a new smartphone OS, how it could succeed. What could it possibly offer consumers that would make them choose it over Android and its millions of apps? It’s much more likely that Huawei is just signalling it does have the capacity to go it alone if Goole pushes its luck with Android.

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