Will superwallets power HarmonyOs

I read the Wallstreet Journal story about the unveiling of Huawei’s “new” HarmonyOs and felt that a couple of points were “conveniently” left out of the reporting.

So, yes HarmonyOs is a new microkernel design that aims to supersede the current Linux kernel in Android OS, however, that doesn’t mean it can’t run Android apps. In fact, porting existing Android apps over is in the best case a simple recompile. In the worst case it’s probably stripping out any Google dependencies. But even that can be helped if Huawei is smart enough to provide its own “Google Mobile Service” layer with the same APIs. So in short, I’m not sure a new operating system would be such a big deal as long as all the APIs and libraries are present. In an ironic twist, the Trump administration gave Huawei “permission” to run its own operating system and Google doesn’t like it at all. But not for the reason they are saying, the so called “security threats” are a smokescreen - Google is really scared of a new competitor that has the power to break-up the Google ecosystem. If Huawei is going in that direction, Samsung might as well… 

To understand what that means, we have to understand the numbers involved here and also ask a very basic question: “at what point do you have enough users (critical mass) to sustain a  true platform business?”. In other words, when do you attract enough developers to your platform on a sustained basis? We could use Apple as a way to measure this a bit.

Apple is selling now less than 200 million iPhones per year and has slipped to the third spot in iPhone sales numbers. We also know that Apple has sold 2.2 billion phones since 2007 and of those phones, Apple claims it has 900 million active iPhone users (and 1.4 billion overall Apple device users).

Huawei has 500 million phones in circulation in 170 countries, and it’s now selling 200 million phones a year. So Apple has an ecosystem advantage of 400 million users. However, at these dimensions, I suspect Huawei could very well run it’s own distribution.  In fact they are already doing so in China today. Yes, Huawei’s Android based operating system that is on every Chinese Huawei phone is in fact already Google-free because Google doesn’t operate in China and the Chinese government doesn’t want foreign companies to gain access to their citizen’s data.

So, why talk about Hongmeng or HarmonyOs when Huawei already has a “theoretical” solution? Why wouldn’t they just forge ahead and take the best part of the open source android and build that out?

I suggested that it would make sense for Huawei to forge ahead with this plan not just because it would “free” them from Google, it is also possibly a requirement in Europe because of the Google unbundling ruling and it has strategic ramifications where Huawei could clearly mark its own territory. 

But the real reason for Hongmeng or HarmonyOs has much more to do with creating their own independent codebase for all their devices. Huawei tries to solve two things: a) dependency from foreign influences and b) complete ownership of intellectual property. Think about it this way: Apple pursues the same strategy with iOS, MacOs, WatchOs, iPadOS etc. It’s all based on the same codebase and it is fully Apple owned. A single codebase simplifies things tremendously. You can avoid a lot of redundancies by doing that and ultimately go to market faster and save costs.

The real question is if they can actually pull this off for the non-Chinese market where Microsoft and Google dominate and thus attract software companies and developers. There have been many such attempts in the past to break those “monopolies” and every time it failed because of lack of third-party software.

I think this time is different and I give this one a good chance to succeed because of two reasons: the ecosystem advantage that Huawei has in its home market and the rise of super wallets. If they can make it work with tight integration of all the must-haves services and apps (Alipay, WeChat, Grab, WhatsApp, Facebook etc. etc.) then I suspect users will no longer see a big difference between Android. And that might just be enough to launch a new operating system and slowly roll it out elsewhere. Also, the fact that they will have developer tools and maybe even better incentives for developers will probably help along.

Let’s see how this turns out.


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