The Trump Administration’s decision to blacklist Huawei, which has led to Google restricting all business ties with the world’s second-largest smartphone maker, a move it withdrew after a day, could give players like Sailfish OS a shot at Android dominance. In an email interview with indianexpress.com, Sami Pienimäki, CEO of Jolla which created Sailfish OS, said the changed geopolitical landscape has created new opportunities for an alternative OS to thrive in the market.
“Sailfish OS is the only existing in-market, non-American smartphone platform, which by nature puts it in the spotlight in this situation,” said Pienimäki. He claims over the past year, there has been an increased interest towards Sailfish OS as a mobile OS platform in different parts of the world precisely due to this political uncertainty.
Pienimäki says Google’s restriction of business ties with Huawei will have a significant impact on the mobile industry, both in short and long term. “The news has already created a disruption in the market, regardless how it will be implemented, which always creates opportunities for fast movers,” he said.
The controversy once again puts focus on our dependence on a single platform. All major smartphone makers use Android, because it is by far the most popular mobile operating system on the planet. Google controls access to several add-on features of the software including the Play store, apps, Google Assistant and Gmail. Apple’s iOS is the only competitor to Android, that too in the premium segment. That means Google commands the authority in the smartphone market, from the operating system to search.
The search giant has been accused by various antitrust regulators over the misuse the dominant position of its mobile OS to hurt rivals. Earlier this month, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) began looking into Google for abusing its power and blocking rivals in India. The allegation is that Google force phone makers to bundle Google products like Search, Maps and Chrome on their devices. Last July, regulators in Brussels fined Google $5 billion for abusing the dominance of its Android mobile operating system.
In the past, Google has pushed manufacturers to stop making Android phones using customised versions of Android. European Union antitrust regulators specifically cited an example of how Google crushed Amazon’s ambitions to not license its Fire OS, based on Android, to other device manufacturers.
Asked if there is a scope for a third OS, Pienimäki said: “We believe the world is not going to be only iOS and Android forever. Such a world scenario simply limits natural human innovation, and as seen by the topical political acts, can be also very risky for the industry.”
Pienimäki believes alternative mobile OS like Sailfish OS are likely to benefit from the Google ban on Huawei. The Linux-based Sailfish OS have barely any traction, yet it has managed to survive in the world dominated by Android and iOS.
Jolla, a Finnish company set up by former Nokia employees, continues to develop Sailfish OS, which is primarily licensed out to enterprises concerned with privacy and security implications associated with Google. In Russia for instance, the platform has the backing of Rostelecom, which is a strategic investor in Jolla. Sailfish OS is the only authorised mobile operating system that’s being used by the Russian government and government-controlled enterprises.
With Huawei developing its own operating system to power its upcoming smartphones, China seems destined to build a mobile OS that will compete with iOS and Android. Other Chinese phones makers may join the fray if Beijing puts pressure on them to ditch Android.
“Beyond forking Android, eventually controlled by Google and subject to US trade policies, building an independent own mobile OS requires significant investment and years of work. i.e. doing this would be a giant step for any company and can’t be realised in a reasonable time-to-market to realize the immediate opportunity,” Pienimäki said.
However, it’s not going to be easy. Huawei sells about half of its phone in China, where access to Google and Twitter is restricted. The bigger challenge is to make a proprietary OS work outside of China. Without apps, it would be foolish to sell smartphones in Europe, India and other parts of the world.
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