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HongMeng OS was not meant to be an alternative to Android, Huawei execs admit

The elusive HongMeng OS, developed by Huawei, has been regarded by many as an alternative to Google’s Android OS. Some even went as far as to say that the experimental OS is faster than Android.

Many pundits reasoned Huawei’s move to create its own operating system was to buffer itself from any potential risk should the U.S. re-instate a full ban against the company.

Can Huawei do it?

However, is there room in the market for a third mobile OS? BlackBerry and Microsoft have tried. Nokia even went as far as creating their own customised version of Android. All have failed. What would make Huawei different?

I would argue nothing much. Creating a brand new operating system is akin to a mission to Mars. While I will root for a company bold enough to give it a go, I am also aware that the chances of success — while not impossible — is very, very slim. We’ll get there eventually but when we do the mobile landscape would have changed significantly, that perhaps mobile operating systems isn’t the point of contention any more.

Predicting the probability of success of Huawei’s very own OS is perhaps a topic for another day. For now, it’s to determine whether the OS was indeed designed to be a mobile operating OS, let alone to compete with Android and iOS.

For those who are eagerly anticipating the release of the HongMeng OS as an alternative to Android, you will be disappointed to find out that HongMeng was originally developed to power Huawei’s IOT devices instead.

Not a mobile OS

“We haven’t decided yet if HongMeng can be developed as a smartphone operating system in the future,” Huawei’s Chairman Liang Hua told reporters in Shenzhen last week.

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Although he added this might change if the U.S. blacklisting took another turn and Google’s full-fat Android OS fell off the table once again—the company has recently secured a partial reprieve from the U.S. on blanket supply chain restrictions.

Liang was also quick to add that his company still preferred to work with Google and Android to develop its mobile devices.

“The Hongmeng OS is primarily developed for IoT devices that will reduce latency… In terms of smartphones, we are still using the Android operating system and ecosystem as a ‘first choice.’ We haven’t decided yet if the Hongmeng OS can be developed as a smartphone operating system in the future,” he added.

Liang’s statement echoes what Huawei’s CEO Ren Zhengfei said. He recently told France’s Le Point that “HongMeng is not designed for phones as everyone thinks. We didn’t develop the OS to replace Google—and if Google does withdraw its OS from Huawei, we will need to start building an ecosystem because we don’t have a clear plan yet.”

This begs the question, does Huawei actually have ‘Plan B; now that top executives have admitted that HongMeng wasn’t actually meant to be a mobile operating system?

It would be naive to think that Huawei doesn’t have any plans should the U.S. once again threaten it with bans and restrictions but at the same time. At the same time, it is equally naive to think one of the plans would be for the company to pursue the development of its very own mobile operating system.

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Should the worst happen, Huawei would still have access to Android via the freely available Android Open-Source Project platform but with that, Huawei would not have access to critical Android services such as the Google Play Store, Gmail, Google Maps and YouTube.

Further adding to the confusion is Huawei’s CEO of consumer business, Richard Yu, statement in May when he told reporters that a new OS “would be available in the fall (sometime in September) of this year and at the latest next spring.”

He also said that the OS “had been in the works since 2012, would be “compatible with all Android applications and web applications,” and, “running performance would be improved by more than 60%.”

Richard’s claims that Huawei’s homegrown OS would be faster than Android made headlines and struck a chord among fans but when Le Point asked Ren whether HongMeng would be faster than Android, Huawei’s CEO admitted that the company “hasn’t done a comparison yet,” although he added, “it’s likely.”

At the end of the day

There’s been a fair amount of confusion since U.S. president, Donald Trump, announced that American companies could still deal with the Chinese tech giant, Huawei. On the one hand, it seemed that Trump had made significant enough progress in trade concession talks with Chinese president, Xi Jinping that the ban had been reversed.

On the other, we’ve heard that American enforcement agents being told that they are to continue treating Huawei as a “blacklisted” company. They were earlier put on the U.S. Department of Commerce’s blacklist of entities, which means that Huawei is prohibited from receiving American-made components without express permission from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

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It is wise of Huawei to continue to pursue alternatives to its dependence on American companies for components, technology and operating systems.

For now, it’s fair to say that Huawei will use the breathing space as an opportunity to explore options so that it can avoid being in the situation altogether.

For those hoping for an alternative OS from Huawei, my advice is don’t hold your breath.

Up next…

Amin Ashaari