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Alternative to Android: Does Huawei Stand A Chance?


One of the most resounding news in the world of smartphones was the United States’ ban on local companies from doing business with the Chinese telecom giant Huawei.  The ban won’t only affect the manufacturer’s (formerly) thriving smartphone business but its sales of telecommunication infrastructure (and perhaps set the rolling out of 5G networks back by a few years).

One of the biggest kicks in the rear received by Huawei was Google’s decision to withdraw Huawei’s license to use its services, which means no Play Store, no Maps, no security updates… nothing but access to the open source part of the Android ecosystem. Of course, Huawei responded by revealing its own, home-grown operating system called “Hongmeng OS”, compatible with Android apps, as an alternative that it plans to use on its phones (the highly anticipated Mate 30 is said to be launched with it, only in China for now). But this leads to an interesting question: does an alternative mobile operating system stand a chance in a market dominated by Android worldwide?

The mobile OS market today

According to some estimates, there are over 3 billion (and counting) active smartphones in the world today. For many, the smartphone is the only connected device they use for everything from paying online to reading the news, betting at platforms like betway.co.ke and keeping in touch with others on social media.

Android is clearly the dominant smartphone platform in the world with a market share of around 85%, leaving around 15% for Apple’s iOS and no room for any others. While some smartphone manufacturers seem to have their own operating system – like OnePlus with its Oxygen OS – these are always modified versions of the Android operating system. Android has grown into a behemoth that covers everything from email to payments, apps, and communication. An alternative operating system would be hard to introduce under these conditions… unless, of course, it comes from China.

Brand patriotism

Huawei and its Honor subbrand are very popular in China, the biggest singular market for smartphones today (according to Newzoo, it had more than 780 million smartphone users in September 2018, three times as many as the United States – Kenya had about 10 million). And the Chinese love their own brands. Many reports have surfaced about how Chinese executives and citizens, in general, have switched from Apple to Huawei not only because of the competitive specifications and lower prices but because of the brand’s “nationality” as well. After the US ban, some have even considered boycotting Apple and switching to Huawei instead.

Introducing a new mobile OS may be a major success in such a market. In our case, Hongmeng OS – Huawei’s alternative to Android – may carve out a place for itself among the two others dominating the market.

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Nixon Kanali

Tech journalist based in Nairobi. I write about tech, business and African startups. Founder and Editor For TechTrendsKE. Nixon is also the East African tech editor for Africa Business Communities. Send tips to nkanali@techtrendske.co.ke.

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