By Nishant Arora
New Delhi, Aug 18 (IANS) Over the last decade, the smartphone operating system (OS) business has become a duopoly. Either you have Apples iPhones running on iOS or a device powered by Googles Android.
A possible alternative to Android and iOS is finally here -- in Huawei HarmonyOS.
Can it win the love of consumers who are on Android or iOS for years?
According to Neil Shah, Research Director at Counterpoint Research, it won't be easy for Huawei to break the duopoly of Apple and Google.
Beyond China, there are two key challenges for Harmony OS in the global market.
"Firstly, to attract global developers to optimize apps for HarmonyOS and integrate other monetization options via Harmony software development kit (SDKs) at scale. This is something other OS providers were not able to do -- for example Microsoft with Windows Phone," Shah told IANS.
"Secondly, from a smartphones perspective, it is not fully complete until HarmonyOS features quality, diverse apps, AI, services, user-experience, support for multiple technologies, and ad platform integration, with respect to Android Google Mobile Services (GMS)," he explained.
Building and maintaining app stores in each country along with localization options, developer support, GDPR guidelines and security scanning, all with huge overheads, is a massive undertaking.
"Further, issuing regular security patches and software updates, while the platform is open to millions of disparate devices, will be resource-intensive and costly," said Shah.
Working with different global operators is going to be another challenge if the value is just captured by Huawei or close partners.
At some point, to maintain openness and scale, Huawei will have to spin off HarmonyOS into a separate entity to drive the growth of the platform.
According to Julie Ask, Vice President and Principal Analyst, eBusiness & Channel Strategy Professionals at Forrester, it's a smart and long-overdue move by Huawei.
"The owner of the operating systems on smartphones (and a host of other devices) has far more market power than simply hardware manufacturers. Fundamentally, it's a window or data and insights on every user of that phone - even if just under the pretense of collecting data to improve the product in the long term," Ask told IANS.
The open question is: Can Huawei pull it off?
"Samsung has tried. Nokia (and employees of Nokia) tried. Developing an ecosystem of partners and developers to create applications and services for a platform is hard. While hard, Huawei has the advantages of a large home marketing (China) plus some financial freedom to pursue a large - and what could be long-term strategic initiative like this," she elaborated.
Could the HarmonyOS be a threat to other OS developed by the US companies like Google?
"In China, yes. Because China has a unique digital ecosystem that foreign Internet companies like Google don't have the advantages to adapt to it very well," said Xiaofeng Wang, Senior Analyst at Forrester.
Being a local Chinese company/brand, it would be easier for Huawei/HarmonyOS to build a well-rounded mobile ecosystem given its familiarity of the digital ecosystem there and the large scale of Huawei's mobile phone penetration.
"Plus, Chinese consumers are growing preferences on home-grown brands; and Chinese brands are doing better in marketing and engaging with Chinese consumers," Wang told IANS.
Shah added: "Necessity is the mother of invention applies well to Huawei, though it will have to remain inventive and prudent on how to scale outside China if forced to, and make sure it has everything in place it is in harmony with the industry and consumers."
The Chinese conglomerate has indicated that it won't be migrating to HarmonyOS for smartphones, unless it is completely cut-off from Google Android's access outside China.
When the time is right, and Huawei has more developers working on HarmonyOS, they might take full advantage of the scalability of the micro-kernel architecture the OS provides.
(Nishant Arora can be contacted at [email protected])