For anyone eagerly anticipating the release of Huawei’s (faster) new mobile operating system—the Android replacement dubbed HongMeng—the update from company chairman Liang Hua on Friday (July 12) will have come as a major disappointment.
“We haven’t decided yet if HongMeng can be developed as a smartphone operating system in the future,” Liang told reporters in Shenzhen, although he added this might change if the U.S. blacklisting took another turn and Google’s full-fat Android OS fell off the table once again—the company has recently secured a partial reprieve from the U.S. on blanket supply chain restrictions.
Liang also echoed the comments from Huawei’s CEO Ren Zhengfei, who recently told France’s Le Point that “HongMeng is not designed for phones as everyone thinks. We didn’t develop the OS to replace Google—and if Google does withdraw its OS from Huawei, we will need to start building an ecosystem because we don’t have a clear plan yet.”
Somewhat confusingly, Richard Yu—CEO of Huawei’s consumer business—had told an audience in China back in May that a new OS “would be available in the fall of this year and at the latest next spring.” Yu said that the OS “had been in the works since 2012, would be “compatible with all Android applications and web applications,” and, “running performance would be improved by more than 60%.”
The inticing speed of HongMeng hit a chord, and headlines around the world promised an exciting superfast alternative OS could be here in time to accompany the Mate 30 launch later in the year. But when Le Point asked Ren whether HongMeng would be faster than Android, Huawei’s CEO acknowledged that the company “hasn’t done a comparison yet,” although he added, “it’s likely.”
Huawei had also reached out publicly to the developer community, offering to help them reach the more than 350 million Huawei devices and 270 million active monthly AppGallery users by “providing you with full support to help you publish your App into AppGallery… it is an invitation to join “our 560k developer’ community for free, in our Huawei Developer portal.”
And so consumers and analysts can now be forgiven for being confused. “This chain of statements doesn’t make any sense” complained Huawei Central, “we have to wait until more solid development in this story come out.” It does now seem that reports from a few weeks ago suggesting the new OS is far from ready are ringing true.
That said, it is likely Huawei will not be shutting down any development teams anytime soon. “The fact that such an extreme stance was taken by the U.S. means that Huawei needs to invest in its alternate OS,” Professor Michael Jacobides from the London Business School told me. “Huawei cannot rely on such a whimsical and dangerously erratic U.S. administration. It would be foolhardy for Chinese firms and Huawei in particular not to prepare a ‘Plan B’.”
Earlier this week, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross confirmed the blacklist reprieve for Huawei and its U.S. supply chain signaled by President Trump at the G20 summit in Osaka last month. Ross announced at a departmental event in Washington that “to implement the president’s G20 summit directive two weeks ago, Commerce will issue licenses where there is no threat to U.S. national security.”
Liang told reporters that the U.S. should go further, that “adding Huawei to the Entity List was neither justified nor fair. It is not enough to ease restrictions on some U.S. suppliers. We should be removed from the list entirely.” That said, he also announced that despite the U.S. blacklisting, revenues for the first half of the year were up—albeit no figures were given, and so no detailed analysis of that claim is possible.
So, how to interpret the latest news from Shenzhen? Huawei has clearly been relying on a blacklist backtrack from the U.S., on the restrictions being lifted from the consumer business, on access to Google and Facebook and ARM and Intel and others remaining in place. And the company’s leadership has now broadly admitted as much.
Now that this is out in the open, the Chinese telecoms giant will be very hopeful that there is not another change of heart in the U.S., it is unlikely the excitement about a new, lightning-fast mobile OS can be created as easily all over again.