Huawei will struggle to compete with Android and iOS. Photographer: Justin Chin/Bloomberg
© 2019 Bloomberg Finance LP
Huawei has said it is pressing ahead with its own operating system, regardless if the US trade ban is relaxed or not. The damage, clearly, has been done.
The threat of unilateral exclusion from services and technology that performs core tasks on Huawei’s products means it has to have a plan B. Or more importantly, a plan A.
Building a proprietary OS won’t be enough, though. It doesn’t matter how much faster, efficient or more accomplished it is if people don’t use it and developers don’t build for it. Huawei knows this, of course, as did Microsoft and Amazon when both launched their doomed smatphones.
But what can the Chinese company learn from failures past if it wants to stand a chance -albeit a slim one – of making a success of HongMeng OS?
Microsoft’s Windows Phone Store, aside from being an unnecessary mouthful, was also riddled with dodgy, scammy apps. Search results for the core apps on the app store yielded multiple results – one of which was the official app, whilst most others were an attempt to extort money from non-savvy users.
This was a problem that carried over to the Windows Store too, as a How To Geek exploration found in 2014 where developers were building apps that charged upwards for $8 for a VLC app that linked to a free download of VLC.
Google, too, has struggled at times to keep its app store free of tricksters. Earlier this year Buzzfeed reported that major Chinese developer DO Global was publishing apps on the Play Store that were both committing ad fraud and sending personal data back to developers without the users’ knowledge or consent.
I don’t think Huawei will have any issue with finding developers to flood HongMeng OS with software, which might be the problem. Microsoft was financially incentivising developers to build apps in 2014 because it wanted to compete with Apple and Google, which led to the store being filled with dross. Huawei could easily make the same mistake, which might be difficult to recover from.
Amazon’s Fire OS for its ill-fated Fire Phone famously didn’t have access to core Google services like Maps or Gmail. That might be fine for a family tablet that’s used to occasionally stream Prime videos, but not for a smartphone.
The core apps matter. They’re essential. No company will build a successful alternative to Android and iOS in Europe and the US without access to Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, YouTube, Maps etc etc. The financial might of Amazon couldn’t do it, and I’m not sure Huawei can.
Those apps are all owned by US companies so they fall under the trade ban.
So where does that leave the Chinese manufacturer? Unless there’s some magical loophole via a third-party client that links to those apps (I doubt this would stand up legally), or perhaps working with another manufacturer, I can’t see how HongMeng OS – and the devices that run it – could ever be popular in the West in the same way Huawei devices are today (well, before the value of Huawei phones tumbled).
So Huawei would likely have to focus its efforts on China where it might have more influence on the ecosystem. But for a company with global ambitions, which was on a trajectory to achieve those ambitions, sacrificing European and US markets probably isn’t satisfactory.
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