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Is Huawei still planning its own mobile operating system?

A year ago, reports surfaced that Huawei was developing its own mobile operating system to reduce its reliance on Google in the smartphone world. Despite the failure of similar efforts by other Chinese companies like Baidu and Alibaba, new reports indicate that Huawei – which is targeting a number one spot in the smartphone market within five years – is still pursuing this aim.

According to website The Information, Huawei is “secretly developing an alternative mobile operating system, according to three people briefed about the project”, the objective being “to hedge its bets against Google’s control of Android”.

The Chinese company has recruited an Apple designer to revamp the skin it overlays on vanilla Android to give its increasingly successful smartphones a differentiated look and feel. Abigail Brody joined last October to oversee the redesign after reviewers criticized Huawei’s user interface for being too close to the iPhone’s. Brody said that she believed Huawei could become the world’s number one, the most advanced and favorite lifestyle centric ecosystem, and without having to copy Apple at all, ever”.

But a full OS, even if it were an Android fork, would go further, enabling Huawei to create its own developer base and store, as Amazon has done, and fully control the user experience. And it could be optimized for the Kirin system-on-chip from Huawei’s processor unit HiSilicon.

If the stories are true, Huawei would likely have three aims in mind – to reduce its dependence on Android and Google; to create a fully integrated platform, Apple-style, with its own technology from processor to user interface; and to feed into the Chinese government-backed effort to create a homegrown mobile platform and so sever some of the ties to western technology and patent fees.

However, many large companies have tried and failed to work free of Android. Some of those alternative OSs have failed, like Firefox OS; some never saw the light of day, like HTC’s; some are relegated to obscurity, like Alibaba’s Aliyun; some have been repurposed for non-smartphone sectors having failed to dent Android, among them Samsung Tizen; some are still alive but mainly because they support Android apps along with their own, including BlackBerry and Jolla Sailfish. Even Windows Phone falls into the category of OSs which have been squeezed out by the Android juggernaut (and Nokia’s new device reference platforms support the Google OS).

The IoT market is a different matter – the lines are not fully drawn there, and many companies will try to push their solutions as the new Android. Huawei itself has LiteOS, looking to bridge the traditional real time OS (RTOS) and the fully-fledged ‘fat’ OS of a smartphone.

At its launch last year, Huawei claimed its system was the lightest OS in the world, requiring just 10Kbytes. It is the cornerstone of the firm’s Agile IoT, which also includes the gateway and controller reference platform, aiming to simplify the task of the product developer with a complete base solution, and so accelerate the creation of a large number of devices and applications.

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