Huawei’s new Android-replacing operating system: Everything you need to know

Christian de Looper
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Android is the go-to operating system for anyone who’s not into iOS, but that may not be the case forever. Samsung has been developing its own Tizen OS for some time now, and has even used it on some smartphones. Next, it’s Huawei’s turn. Not only is it now confirmed that Huawei has an alternative, self-developed mobile operating system, but it’s almost ready to go and will be rolled out in June — a month before the U.S.’s ban comes into full force in August.

The latest news comes from TechRadar, which spoke to Alaa Elshimy, the managing director and vice president of Huawei Enterprise Business Group Middle East. According to Elshimy, Huawei’s operating system — known by the internal code name “HongMeng” — is now ready to roll out and will be deployed next month.

“We did not want to bring the OS to the market as we had a strong relationship with Google and others and did not want to ruin the relationship”,  Elshimy told TechRadar. “Now, we are rolling it out next month.”

Elshimy also confirmed some of the rumored capabilities of the operating system. HongMeng — which may be known as Ark OS when it launches — is supposed to natively support Android apps, without developers needing to create a new version. This confirms rumors from a Weibo post by Chinese magazine Caijing. That post claimed Huawei’s OS would be capable of downloading and running Android apps natively from the Huawei AppGallery. It’s also expected the OS will be flexible enough to be used by smartphones, computers, tablets, TVs, and even cars.

This claim that the OS can run Android apps natively is big news. It means app developers wouldn’t have to to make significant changes to port their apps over to Huawei’s new operating system. As one of Android’s biggest strengths is its large array of apps, this would lessen the impact of moving OS significantly and would make it easier for users to keep their favorite apps.

However, it may not be that simple for Huawei’s OS. The post by Caijing points out that recompiling an app for the new OS would offer a performance boost of more than 60% — suggesting the performance of uncustomized Android apps would be less than you would expect on a comparable Android phone. However, as a stopgap, it could be significant in getting third-party app support quickly.

Huawei’s OS has been in the cards for some time, with reports extending back many years. In 2012, it was reported that the company was developing an operating system in case it could no longer use Android or Windows Mobile. Everything was then quiet until 2018 when a report from the South China Morning Post stated that Huawei had been working on an Android alternative. According to the report, the plan to build a new operating system was set in motion by Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, and was a fail-safe in case of a “worst-case scenario.”

Why would Huawei make its own operating system?

There are a few reasons an Android alternative might be important for Huawei. For starters, accusations of espionage and involvement with the Chinese government have come to a head, and it’s culminated in the world’s second largest mobile manufacturer being placed on the United States Department of Commerce’s “Entity List,” meaning only U.S. government-approved suppliers are allowed to supply the Chinese company with parts.

As a result, Google cut its ties with Huawei, ending a long and fruitful relationship. Qualcomm and Intel soon followed suit, and although the U.S. government has relented slightly on the order — setting up a 90-day grace period — there are still rumors that more companies will be cutting ties.

Even without U.S.-China tensions, there are plenty of reasons Huawei might want to explore its own technology. For example, the company may be looking to reduce its dependence on other companies in general — as it has done in its mobile processor business. While it does still use third-party processors, many of its devices use chips built by the company itself.

Before the statement from Elshimy, the company treated the new operating system as top secret news. We previously received a statement from the company that said it had “no plans to release its own OS in the foreseeable future.”

Updated on May 28, 2019: Huawei may launch its OS in June 2019.