The clock is ticking for Huawei and in less than two months, it will officially be blocked from installing Google’s software on future devices. Not unless Google and Huawei are able to convince the US government otherwise, of course. With the stakes that high, Huawei was repeatedly been reported to be preparing a Plan B operating system for its future phones. While the Ark OK that has been mentioned in the past may still be based on Android, a new report suggests that Huawei is also looking into using a Russian-made version of Jolla’s Sailfish OS.
The news comes from Russian media so take it for what it’s worth. The report says that the suggestion to completely ditch Android came from Russian company Rostelecom and businessman Grigory Berezkin. Berezkin co-owned Jolla in 2014 and started developing a Russian version of the Finnish company’s Sailfish OS. In 2018, the state-owned Rostelecom bought a 75% share in Berezkin’s Open Mobile Platform.
Adopting Sailfish OS could be a disruptive change to the smartphone experience that Huawei has been famous, or infamous, for. Based on Nokia’s and Intel’s aborted MeeGo OS, Sailfish uses an almost completely different software stack, using only Android’s hardware layer and drivers for compatibility with existing phones. To date, very few commercially available phones have shipped with Sailfish OS.
While it will free Huawei from any dependence on Google, it also prevents it from accessing the wide number of Android apps. Sailfish itself does have a compatibility layer to run Android apps, it is far from perfect. If supporting existing apps are its goal, Huawei might be better served by an Android fork.
Additionally, adopting an OS modified by a Russian state company could also do more harm than good for Huawei’s image. The country has been notorious for its own state-sanctioned espionage and heavy censorship. If Huawei is trying to prove that it is free from such activities, using a Russian fork of an open source platform should probably be its last option.