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Why Huawei’s Much Ridiculed New OS Could Still Have a Big Impact in Africa

Huawei officially launched HarmonyOS this week, its new mobile operating system. The company was forced to build its own in-house OS after the Trump administration banned it from accessing key U.S. technologies including Alphabet’s Android.

While Harmony is widely derided, even ridiculed among the U.S. and European tech press (described as the “fake it till you make it” OS), there may be a market for it in Global South countries. First, it’ll allow Huawei to get back in the mobile phone market in developing countries where it’s lost a lot of ground. This means Huawei’s going to sell phones for cheap. Very cheap. Secondly, Huawei is promoting HarmonyOS less as an Android replacement and more as a platform for the Internet of Things (IoT) which could allow the Chinese tech giant to leverage its already sizable network infrastructure presence in Africa to develop new connectivity initiatives.

Henry Tugendhat, a senior China policy analyst at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., acknowledges that it’s going to be tough going for HarmonyOS to gain traction in the market (remember PalmOS, Symbian, and Windows Mobile?) but he also thinks it would be unwise to write it off entirely. Henry joins Eric & Cobus to discuss the geopolitical dimensions of Huawei’s new operating system and why he thinks it’s important.

Show Notes:

About Henry Tugendhat:

Henry Tugendhat is a senior policy analyst with the China team at the U.S. Institute of Peace. He focuses on issues related to China’s impact on conflict dynamics in Africa and Latin America. Tugendhat has worked on these issues for a decade through previous employment at the Institute of Development Studies in the U.K., the China-Africa Research Initiative at Johns Hopkins University SAIS, and the World Bank Group’s macroeconomics, trade and investment team. His core areas of interest include conflict, economics, telecommunications, and cybersecurity in the context of China-Africa and China-Latin America relations. Tugendhat lived and worked in China for three years and holds a master’s from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London and a bachelor’s from the University of Leeds. He speaks Mandarin, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.

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