The discussion around choosing a mobile operating system has gotten a bit stale lately- you either get an iPhone or one of the many Android based phones. But that wasn’t the case a few years back when you a lot more choice with operating systems on a phone such as Symbian, BlackBerryOS, WebOS and Windows Mobile, all competing against each other. In fact, a lot of what we find on Android or iOS today took its roots from the golden days of mobile operating system wars.
Though Apple and Google continue to refine their respective OSes, we don’t see many giant leaps- possibly due to the nature of how duopolies work. But I can see a scenario playing out where consumers have at least two more options available to them other than iOS and Android.
The first contender is Huawei with its open-source HarmonyOS which is being forced into development due to the trade wars between the US and China. Not being able to offer Google services is an existential threat to Huawei’s mobile phone business outside China and the company has realized that it needs to own as much of its stack as it can. But what can make Huawei succeed where others such as Firefox, Samsung and Ubuntu have failed?
It’s mainly a number game. According to IDC’s 2019 first quarter report, Huawei shipped over 59 million units globally which gives it an impressive 18.9% market share of the smartphone market. Now imagine if the Chinese Government steps in and “asks” other Chinese phone manufacturers such as Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi to adopt the open-source HarmonyOS? Between these companies, IDC estimates a market share of over 42% and that could lead to a devastating blow for Google and the Android ecosystem as we know it.
Huawei as well as Xiaomi and Oppo already have their custom UIs developed on top of Android. It’s the layer their consumers see and recognize a phone by and with a little work, each of these companies can port their user-interface to HarmonyOS. Their consumers will continue to see a UI that is familiar to them and as long as the apps that matter to them exist on HarmonyOS, they’re unlikely to care about the underlying operating system. In many ways, this is the reason why people chose a “Samsung” or “Huawei” phone and not necessarily an “Android” phone.
What’s left is convincing developers to create apps for this new platform, but with a 42% global market share (assuming Vivo, Xiaomi, Oppo and co. agree to using Harmony OS) and a few billion dollars in funding it should make things easier for Huawei. Sure, it is an area where giants like Microsoft or BlackBerry failed but their market share of targeted phones never touched double-digits.
The second player that could also chip away Android’s market share is Microsoft. Yes, Microsoft has already failed twice with mobile operating systems, but with the introduction of its new dual screen devices- the Surface Neo and Surface Duo, there’s a plan for…