Huawei’s meteoric rise in the telecoms business was brought to a dramatic halt in April when the US government put a ban on US companies doing business with the Chinese firm. This includes Google and, crucially for Huawei’s smartphone users, access to the Android operating system updates.
It's fair to say Huawei's future in the consumer electronics market is under some threat. In addition to the news that Google has stopped working with Huawei, a number of other companies including Intel, Qualcomm, Xilinx and Broadcom have also ceased supplying Huawei with components as part of the US trade war with China.
Under pressure to come up with a solution, Huawei announced a new, lean operating system, Harmony OS, to the world on August 9. Similar to Android, Huawei’s new operating system can easily work across multiple device types, from TVs to smartphones.
The technology behind the OS certainly looks promising. The launch presentation included some staggering benchmarks of improved performance and security, even when compared to what we know about Google’s latest in-development Android operating system, Fuchsia OS.
To some, the announcement was much needed relief for Huawei smartphone owners who have been rightly worried that their expensive purchases would become obsolete more quickly. After all, a new and improved Huawei OS that can easily replace Android OS on Huawei phones will help remove the firm’s dependence on Google’s technology.
Huawei CEO Richard Yu even claimed that, if push comes to shove, the company can do a global rollout of Harmony OS across all its smartphone devices on a one-to-two day notice. Unfortunately, Yu was also the first to admit that going head-to-head with Android with a substitute mobile OS is not Huawei’s preferred strategy.
He is right, of course. Here are four reasons why Huawei’s latest OS is not a magic solution to the company’s problems:
Choices the US, Australia and other nations make around how they set up 5G will determine how we use technology for collaboration, innovation and global business into the future. The decision to block Huawei’s 5G technology could isolate Australia from future economic opportunities.
1. App shortage
Most users have no idea what an operating system does. They use their phones for the apps. App developers target operating systems with large user bases since it means they will recoup their development costs much quicker. No one is interested in operating systems with small market shares.
Although Huawei can theoretically just switch all of its users to its new operating system, the associated apps would need to be altered, as Harmony OS is not compatible with Android. With over 2m apps on Google’s Play Store, it would require a lot of patience and deep pockets to convince app developers to port their apps from Android to Harmony and keep them updated.
Even with the right financial incentives for developers, just porting apps across is not a surefire recipe to get customers to adopt a new OS. A good example here comes from RIM, the company behind the ill-fated Blackberry phone. When RIM launched its Blackberry 10 in 2013 it held a big “port-a-thon” event that brought 15,000 apps onto its platform in under two days. As well as making it easy for developers, it gave them a financial reward of US$100 per app. But 15,000 apps is a drop in the ocean of then then one million Android apps and was simply not enough to bridge the gap to save RIM’s struggling smartphone business.