Ever since we heard about a possible new OS from Huawei, I’ve been curious where this might be going and what it could mean. This got brief mention in last week’s NewsBytes under the heading “A Huawei OS Code-named Hongmeng: Can it fly?” But a more detailed TechRadar story sheds a lot more light on this subject for everything from motivation to platform coverage. It’s entitled “Huawei says its Android OS replacement launch date is still undecided,” updated this week to reflect follow-up coverage. First, I’ll set the stage with some background information, then I’ll speculate about where this might be going and it all could mean.
Why Does Huawei Need A Replacement OS?
On May 23, 2019, President Trump signed an executive order that placed Huawei on a so-called “ban list” of companies. This order gives the US government the authority to bar US companies from doing business with foreign suppliers and entities that could pose a threat to national security. Interestingly, this has meant that both Microsoft and Google have been powerfully affected by this ban, as of course has Huawei itself. For one thing, MS is no longer licensing Windows to Huawei for inclusion on its PCs, tablets, and other Windows-ready devices. Even more painful for Huawei, this also means that Google is no longer licensing the proprietary, value-add components in the Android OS for use on handsets and other Android devices as well. This collection of stuff represents the Android “crown jewels,” including such popular and heavily used items as Google Search, Google Maps, YouTube, and the Google Play Store. Collectively, Google calls this all Google Mobile Sevices (aka GMS) and vendors must negotiate and pay a license to Google to pre-install these items on handsets for sale to regular users.
It was hard, harsh news for Huawei to lose its ability to license and deploy Windows on Windows-ready and -capable devices. It was even harder and harsher for them to understand that the full, expected functionality of Android would also be out of reach for its handsets and other mobile devices as well. More than anything, this is what has been driving Huawei’s so-called “Plan B” — namely, to come up with an operating system of its own. What I didn’t understand when I wrote the NewsByte item last week but I do understand now, is that the replacement OS is intended to run across the whole range of devices that Huawei builds including both PC- and PC-like devices that would usually run Windows, and the full gamut of mobile devices that would usually run Android.
Hongmeng May Become Ark
According to the afore-linked TechRadar story, the new OS has been under development for over two years. It still has some way to go before public release, though, because it’s not slated for rollout until late 2019 (in China) and 2020 (internationally). Those dates come courtesy of CEO Richard Yu at Huawei, so it’s fair to characterize them as from a “usually reliable source.” This contradicts information obtained earlier from Middle Eastern Huawei executive Alaa Elshimy who claimed that “The OS was ready in January 2018” and who also claimed (in May 2019) that the company would be “rolling it out next month.” Mr. Yu’s disclosures trump Mr. Elshimy’s, so the schedule appears set for late this year in Huawei’s domestic market (China) and sometime in 2020 for the rest of the world.
Here’s how the TechRadar piece describes this new planned OS:
The OS, which could be called Ark OS when launched, is expected to be compatible with mobile phones, computers, tablets, TVs, connected cars, smartwatch, smart wearables and others.
All applications that work with Android are expected to work with this new OS without any need for further customization, Elshimy claims, adding that users will be able to download apps from the Huawei AppGallery.
Whether all apps available via Google’s Play Store will also feature in Huawei’s store remains to be seen, as we’ve seen numerous operating systems before (Windows Phone, BlackBerry OS etc) fail to match the volume of Google’s and Apple’s app store offerings.
If the HongMeng OS misses out on key apps, it could be difficult for Huawei to convince users to switch to handsets running the software.
I find the whole thing fascinating and can’t wait to see what’s going to happen next. This is a big set of tasks for a company to take on, and big promise to which it looks like Huawei is firmly committed. It may be enough to get me to buy a Huawei device running Hongmeng/Ark when they become available next year just to see and learn how it works — that is, assuming there’s a legitimate, legal way for me to do that!
Author: Ed Tittel
Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran. He’s a Princeton and multiple University of Texas graduate who’s worked in IT since 1981 when he started his first programming job. Over the past three decades he’s also worked as a manager, technical evangelist, consultant, trainer, and an expert witness. See his professional bio for all the details.