The news of Google cutting ties with Huawei after the United States’ ban on local companies working with the Chinese telecom giant has probably troubled quite a few smartphone owners – after all, Huawei was the third (second?) largest smartphone maker in the world (its market share in South Africa, according to StatCounter, is around 22%). Now, it seems, it’s Google’s turn to worry about the ban – the search giant has reportedly argued for the suspension of the measure, at least when it comes to Android. The reason seems to be Huawei’s intention to launch its own smartphone operating system later this year, one that would not rely on Google’s services at all.
The smartphone OS status quo
When it comes to smartphone operating systems, it’s Android or nothing for the vast majority of manufacturers – and Apple is the only exception. According to IDC, Android had an 85.1% market share at the end of 2018, and Apple’s iOS covered the rest of 14.9%, leaving nothing for the few alternative operating systems that still exist (Sailfish OS, Ubuntu Touch, and others). This status quo could be threatened if and when Huawei rolls out its own home-grown smartphone operating system reportedly called HongMeng OS or Ark OS. When it does, it will launch the new OS in China, where it has a 29% market share (and where local manufacturers cover more than 80% of the market).
What there is to know about HongMeng OS
HongMeng OS has reportedly been in the works over at Huawei since 2012. While it is an alternative to Android, it’s also reportedly fully compatible with its apps and web services, meaning that everything from Facebook and WhatsApp to betway.co.za and pretty much every Android game will run on it without any issues. Instead of Google Play, it will rely on Huawei’s own AppGallery to distribute apps, and rumors also speak of it using Aptoide to distribute Android apps. There are no reports about its performance yet – the rumors about it being 60% faster than Android may only be a PR stunt at this point.
If it offers a viable alternative to Google’s Android, HongMeng OS could spread like wildfire in China – where most of Google’s services are not available anyway. Reports already speak of manufacturers like Xiaomi, Oppo, and Vivo, as well as China’s telecom giant Tencent testing the new operating system.
In the meantime, Google…
According to an insider cited by the Financial Times, Google has been arguing for the US ban to be lifted, at least when it comes to Android. Otherwise, it argues, the US is risking to push Huawei to create a new “hybrid” version of the Android operating system, based on its open-source component (basically, Android without Google’s services) that will be much more vulnerable to hacks than the Google-backed version. This report has not been confirmed by Google… then again, it wasn’t denied either. The entire global smartphone OS ecosystem is currently controlled by US companies (Google and Apple), so allowing a third player to break into it would not only upset the status quo but threaten Android’s (and Google’s) monopoly. And, of course, potentially cut it off from the ad revenue and data generated by hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of users.