We need more choice than just Android and iOS. It’s become apparent that having only two “phone” operating systems is becoming a problem. Android, the Google-backed OS, has become the only option for many handset makers, giving Google too much control of the phone OS market. That’s become even more obvious since Huawei had their Android license ripped from them earlier this week.
To clarify: the problems with Huawei doesn’t stem from the lack of OS competition. There are legitimate concerns about espionage in Huawei’s network equipment from the Chinese government and less legitimate reasons in the US-China trade war. It seems that Donald Trump is using Huawei, a Chinese company, as a hostage to try and force China’s hand. But no matter the reason, Huawei can no longer use Google’s Android services, (although it can use the open source underpinnings of android). This opens a lot of problems for Huawei users. They will lose access to security updates, key Google apps like YouTube and Maps, and lose access to the Play App Store. That’s a major problem for Huawei’s users, and the handset maker doesn’t have an alternative OS to turn to.
But just imagine if there was a third operating system (and more importantly, a second operating system that Huawei could use as iOS only runs on Apple’s handsets). Step in Microsoft. Now, Microsoft is a US company, so my argument falls down here, but the troubles with Huawei has highlighted how Google holds all the power. A third operating system would help the phone ecosystem become more diverse and put innovation back at the forefront. Currently, if a device maker falls out with Google (or isn’t Apple), they have no other options for the very software that denotes the user experience of their phones. Sure, manufacturers could go the open source android route, but it’s arguable that Android is nothing without Google’s services on top, and building a bespoke OS seems impractical otherwise Samsung and Huawei would be already using their own.
Now, I know what you’re thinking; yes, Microsoft already tried creating a mobile operating system and failed to gain any traction. But Microsoft is in a very different place since Windows Phone launched in 2010. They’ve changed CEO, who in turn has changed the culture of Microsoft, becoming a much more open company by supporting open source projects and multiple platforms. When Windows Phone launched, it was a great operating system. Performance was fast, even on low-end hardware, the live tile system, which would show the user important information without opening the app is starting to make its way into the Android operating system, and Windows Phone would look better on today’s OLED screens, with the bright bold coloured tiles on a black background. In many ways, Windows Phone was ahead of its time, but, unfortunately, it arrived too late, held back by Microsoft’s previous CEO. Android and iOS had already built their user bases and app developers were reluctant to support another operating system with its own code base.
A more open Microsoft is perfectly positioned to take on Android. Users could become accustomed to using Microsoft’s software on competitors platforms, and if they have a good experience, they could be enticed to jump ship. Apple did something similar with iTunes, using the app as a way to entice users from Windows to the Mac. And with web technologies have matured, and web-based apps becoming more and more popular, it seems like the barrier to entry for app developers would be lower now than in the Windows Phone days. If Microsoft really wanted to go crazy, they could even open source their mobile OS.
Another option could be WebOS, which started out life as a mobile operating system for Palm phones but was bought by LG and now resides on their TVs. WebOS would need work, but it already uses web technologies to run its apps, so it’s halfway there.
Google’s ability to revoke their Android license at any time should be worrying to any phone maker, regardless of location or political climate. Having an alternative OS to diversify the phone market would take the pressure away from phone manufacturers to rely so heavily on Google.
Huawei’s predicament shows how much power Google has and how little competition there is. That’s bad for consumers in the long run.