Huawei is developing its own mobile operating system as a "contingency measure" in case Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) gets too heavy-handed with its own Android platform, according to a new report from The Information.
The news outlet reported Wednesday that the Chinese smartphone vendor is paying a former Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) designer to help create a new version of EMUI, an Android-based user interface for its handsets. The company, which has become a major player in the worldwide smartphone market but has very little presence in the U.S., hopes to tweak the skin to make it look less like Apple's iOS.
Citing three unnamed "people briefed about the project," The Information also said Huawei has a team of developers in Scandinavia that includes former Nokia (NYSE:NOK) employees developing a homegrown operating system. Abigail Brody, a former Apple UI executive brought in to overhaul EMUI, acknowledged the project and said she plans on meeting with the team later this summer.
There's virtually no evidence of consumer demand for a third mobile OS, of course: Even deep-pocketed companies like Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) have failed to threaten the dominance of Google's Android and Apple's iOS, and while carriers insist they'd like to see more competition, they haven't aggressively marketed any alternative platform in years.
Still, Huawei's move makes sense on a few levels. Google has increasingly asserted control over its own platform in response to a growing number of handset vendors – particularly in China – that have essentially co-opted the platform, sacrificing Google's apps to leverage the open source heart of the software. And while Google has brought major players such as Samsung to heel, Huawei may have the worldwide footprint needed to pave the way for a new OS: The company recently emerged as the world's third-largest smartphone vendor behind Samsung and Apple despite having very little presence in the U.S., and it appears to be building on that momentum with its new flagship P9 and P9 Plus devices.
Huawei's homegrown OS may never see the light of day, of course, and even if it does it will face huge challenges trying to take market share from Android and iOS. But margins are slimming in the hardware business as growth of the worldwide smartphone market slows, and nearly every major mobile hardware company is increasingly focusing on software and services. Developing its own mobile platform is a relatively small gamble that may eventually pay big dividends for Huawei.
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