Storm clouds are gathering over the landscape of high-tech industries across the globe, with recent moves by the US – aimed at putting pressure on China – threatening to upend long-standing tech trade relationships. Ironically, the rain may end up falling on America. In China, it sounds more like the sun is shining on a technological revolution that will leverage its massive market, the buyers US firms depend upon, to become a leader in all areas of high-tech industries.
China will likely begin flooding global markets with cheap low-end chips by as soon as next year, analysts say, an effort accelerated by a ban slapped on sales by US firms to Chinese telecommunications company ZTE. But the disruption is not limited to chips. US pressure may also force China’s hand to loosen the US stranglehold on software.
The ban on ZTE has reportedly endangered the firm’s ability to equip its smartphones with Google’s Android operating system. Last week it was reported that the world’s third-largest smartphone maker, China’s Huawei, is currently under investigation for exactly what ZTE was caught doing – violating Iran sanctions. Huawei, it turns out, has been developing its own operating system as an alternative to Android ever since the US launched investigations into ZTE and Huawei in 2012.
Details of the plan to build an indigenous Chinese OS were revealed by sources familiar with the plans, reported by The South China Morning Post over the weekend. With no indication yet whether Huawei will be implicated with wrongdoing by American investigators, Huawei representatives pushed back on speculation that they were anywhere close to rolling out their own system.
“It is a matter of capacity and necessity,” according to Zhao Ming, president of a smartphone brand owned by Huawei. “There is no doubt that Huawei is capable of doing it, but for now I don’t think it is necessary, since we work very closely with Google and will continue to use its Android system.”
The firm “has no plans to release its own OS in the foreseeable future,” the company was quoted as saying in response to a query. “We focus on products powered by Android OS and adopt an open attitude towards mobile OS.”
Considering China’s fraught relationship with Google, including a high-profile falling-out in 2010 that saw the US Internet giant’s China operations moved from Beijing to Hong Kong, it would surprise no one if the long-term plan was to declare independence from the US-made operating system.
Currently, Android and Apple account for 99.9% of smartphone operating systems, according to the SCMP report. During a publicity tour last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s called on the country to shed dependence on foreign technology, suggesting the government was willing to pull out all the stops to support industries such as chip making. You can probably add smartphone operating systems to that list.