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Huawei taps ex-Nokia devs for 'secret phone OS project'

When Android goes proprietary, everyone will need a Plan B

Just when you thought the platform wars had settled down into a cosy duopoly, Huawei is reported to be working on “an alternative mobile operating system”, according to reports.

“The team working on the project is based in Scandinavia and includes ex-Nokia employees,” The Information scooped.

The secret project is said to be in its infancy, and is intended as a hedge against Google further tightening its grip on Android.

Google is reportedly working on a proprietary binary Android, analyst Richard Windsor told The Register, allowing it to take tighter control of the platform.

The proprietary Android would have no dependencies on the open source (AOSP) code base, and would allow Google to ship major platform updates much faster to end users. Currently phone makers either don’t allow major platform updates, or make them really hard to get, and late. Two years elapsed from the release of Android Lollipop before its installed base overtook that of the preceding year’s version, KitKat. The latest platform release Marshmallow has only 10.1 per cent of the installed base, as of early June.

But a proprietary Android may be priced above what a phone maker can plausibly sell in a volume market like China. Hence the scramble across the industry for a Plan B. This looks like Huawei’s.

At the same time, the report notes, Huawei’s main bet for consumer phones remains Android, and its hiring Apple designers to spruce up its Android look and feel. The much-criticised EMUI skin is set for a major overhaul.

Huawei has already developed a freely downloadable operating system - the remarkable LiteOS which runs on a 10kb microkernel. It’s intended for what we used to call embedded systems, but must now be called the Internet of Things, or the Zeitgeist Police will pay us a visit. We wrote about how Huawei is using LiteOS here.

Of the Android alternatives, Microsoft’s still in the licensing game with Windows 10 for mobile devices, and Samsung licenses an alt.OS in the shape of Tizen, which emerged from the LiMO work. It runs across a range of consumer electronics including cameras, fridges, robots and smartphones - but the best known instance is Samsung’s own Gear S2 watch, and not much else. ®

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