Huawei's Ark OS Has One Technical Hurdle: Android Compatibility

The largest technical hurdle facing Huawei with its Android OS alternative at the moment is Android compatibility, sources familiar with the matter say.

Huawei's alternative OS, with trademarked names such as "ARK OS" and "OAK OS," or "Huawei Hongmeng," is the focus of the Chinese OEM right now as it finds itself under pressure to prepare its own OS for upcoming devices the company looks to release later this year. Huawei has been a cooperative Android OEM but now, faced with the US-China trade war, finds itself a Chinese casualty.

The US Federal Government has blacklisted the company, citing espionage issues and its Chinese Government compliance as reasons for US entities to steer clear of the company or ask the Federal Government before doing business with it.

Huawei's understanding of Android as the dominant mobile OS in the world (with Google's Android and Apple's iOS accounting for 99.9% of all mobile browsing globally) means that, if Huawei's alternative OS looks to survive and thrive beyond the current trade war, it will have to be compatible with Android apps -- meaning that the company can sideload Android apps onto its OS without trouble.

The lack of Android compatibility will mean death for Huawei's alternative, regardless of how formidable it is otherwise.

In 2012, a small Huawei team came together in "lakeside talks" to discuss an alternative OS in the event of a US ban. Once the plan was agreed to, the small OS team began work on the project. The project was so top secret that no mobile devices were allowed inside the laboratory but had to sit in lockers outside the lab.

Seven years ago, Huawei was a small company with less than five percent market share. Today, the company has become the second largest smartphone manufacturer globally, having shipped over 200 million smartphones this past year, half of which made it outside of China (over 100 million). Huawei hasn't developed an alternative OS out of the blue, then, but always had one in its back pocket in the event of political war with the United States. Under the Trump administration, Huawei's worst nightmare has become reality.

Earlier this year, Huawei mobile chief Richard Yu Chengdong said in an interview with a German publication that Huawei had its own mobile OS in the works in the event of a war with the US. Huawei is in hot water with the US beyond the trade war, with charges on its head such as trade secret theft, economic sanctions violation, and the concealment of business dealings with Iran.

The Huawei Android alternative is a result of the last seven years, with sources saying that Huawei has studied Google's Android and Apple's iOS intensely. Anyone who has used or seen Huawei's EMUI Android "skin" up close can testify to its remarkable resemblance to iOS.

"Huawei Hongmeng," one of the upcoming OS's trademarked names, is Chinese for "primordial world." The translated name conjures up scientific evolution and the "primordial soup" from which evolution suggests all plant, animal, and human life arrived on earth.

The primordial soup contained the ingredients from which all of life sprung, scientists say. Huawei's OS would become the starting ingredients from which all of Huawei's mobile efforts would evolve over time.

Huawei has said that its upcoming OS will arrive to market either this Fall (Fall 2019) or next Spring (Spring 2020).

Currently, Huawei finds itself in hot water with the US but also with the consumer market. The second top global smartphone maker, second only to Samsung, has seen a financial hit with European consumers in recent days. Android has a stronghold on the mobile market, and the question consumers often ask with an alternative OS is, "will it run Android apps and have Android compatibility?"

Since Huawei has now been blacklisted by the US Government, and certain European entities, like processor architect ARM, hold American technology patents and are thus forced to comply with the US (meaning they too, must abandon Huawei), European consumers can put no faith in Huawei's ability to withstand all these current sanctions and global abandonment.

Europeans are, in some sense, as big (if not bigger) as the US on issues such as privacy and data protection (think Google and the Right To Be Forgotten), and the idea of Chinese Government espionage doesn't sit well with Europe, either.

The rationale behind Huawei's blacklisting in the US is that it is the top smartphone entity in China. Huawei smartphones in the mainland do not run Google's Android, meaning that, with a forked version running Android's Open Source Project (AOSP), the Chinese Government has unfettered access to the OS, and thus, the user data of all Chinese citizens.

Without Google's Android, neither Google nor the US Government has any way of discovering whether the Chinese Government accesses the OS. This mysterious nature to it all explains the Federal Government's hesitancy to Huawei selling mobile devices here to its own consumers.

It should be noted for the record that, despite what many believe Trump to say, neither President Trump nor the US Government are opposed to selling Chinese smartphones here, or even smartphones from Asian makers, for that matter.

Samsung sells its smartphones here, and the company's KNOX security has made its phones extremely government-friendly. LG sells smartphones here as well. As for Chinese smartphones, smartphone OEMs such as OnePlus (OnePlus 7 Pro) and Xiaomi (Pocophone F1) also sell their smartphones in the US.

The Federal Government's issue with Huawei is that it is the largest smartphone maker in China, with the backing of the Chinese Government. Its ties to the government there and the secrecy behind it all remains a gaping fear in the minds of US officials.

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About the Author

Deidre Richardson

Staff News Writer
Deidre Richardson is a tech lover whose insatiable desire for all things tech has kept her in tech journalism some eight years now. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she earned BA degrees in both History and Music. Since graduating from Carolina in 2006, Richardson obtained a Master of Divinity degree and spent four years in postgraduate seminary studies. She's written five books since 2017 and all of them are available at Amazon. You can connect with Deidre Richardson on Facebook.