Huawei turning to Russian OS amid Android ban

August 29, 2019 12:40
Huawei wants to use a third-party platform to ensure that its mobile devices will work in an Android environment. Photo: Reuters

Huawei Technologies, the world's largest telecommunications equipment supplier, is planning to use a Russian-based operating system for its tablet products after the US government effectively banned the Chinese company from using the Android operating system on its devices.

Huawei will install a Russian variant of Jolla's Sailfish OS on 360,000 tablets intended to be used in conducting a population census in Russia, according to a Reuters report.

Earlier this month the Chinese company unveiled its proprietary operating system called Harmony for smartphones and other devices, and installed it on its new smart TV products. But Huawei wants another option to ensure that its mobile devices will work in an Android environment through a third-party platform.

The reigning duopoly of Google's Android and Apple's iOS has squeezed out Microsoft's Windows 10 Mobile, BlackBerry 10, webOS, Firefox OS and Ubuntu Touch from the smartphone OS market. 

That's why Huawei has turned to the Sailfish OS, which is the last remaining third-party operating system for mobile devices.

Sailfish OS used to be an aggressive player in the smartphone OS market and Jolla had even launched its own smartphone brand to test the market.

In Hong Kong, Jolla partnered with Hutchison’s 3HK in 2014, raising hopes that Sailfish could become the third mobile operating system after Android and Google. But Sailfish is now under the control of a Russian company.

Sailfish was initially a software project under Nokia's MeeGo operating system. But Nokia later sold its smartphone business to Microsoft and Microsoft decided to use Windows Mobile on its mobile devices instead.

Sailfish OS is an open-source platform that can support Android apps. Currently, the system can be downloaded to selected Android phones to make them run on Sailfish.

The Russian government has selected the software as an option to stop using US technology. Rostelecom, a state-owned telecoms company, recently acquired 75 percent of the company that developed Sailfish OS. The system will be further developed and rebranded as Aurora OS.

The new OS is still going to be based on Jolla’s Sailfish OS, but the only difference will be the lack of support for Android apps. The Russian government is aiming to migrate more than 8 million Sailfish OS users to the new Aurora OS by 2021.

For Huawei, choosing between Harmony and Aurora OS could be a difficult one. The Chinese company wanted to use Harmony OS for multiple interconnected devices in the Internet of Things era.

But since Huawei started the project from scratch, it could be difficult for the company to attract developers to provide app support to the system. And developers’ support is critical to its success.

That being the case, it would be a smart move for Huawei to use the Sailfish OS on its smartphone devices.

The company doesn't have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to develop and promote a new mobile OS and provide subsidies to developers.

Using Sailfish will mean lots of savings on marketing costs. Huawei can also build an Android-compatible app store for its users and developers on Sailfish, making it a win-win proposition for both the company and developers.

Many smartphone users have little confidence in using a Chinese operating system. Fears of espionage being spread by US officials as well as privacy concerns among users could discourage overseas consumers from using Huawei devices running on a different operating system

But one of the key selling points of Sailfish OS is its focus on privacy protection. Jolla only collects information needed to run its services. It does not collect personal data or sell the data to third parties without the users' consent.

By using the Sailfish OS, Huawei would be in a better position to win the trust of overseas smartphone users.

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EJ Insight writer