Huawei has had it rough lately.

Moves by the US government to cut off its trade with partners in the country have rocked the company, prompting it to issue a warning that it expects to take a $30 billion hit to its top line over the next two years.

Although US President Donald Trump has thrown the company a lifeline by pledging to allow shipments of US-made software and hardware (with the caveat these don’t have national security implications), its removal from the so-called Entity List is far from assured. Senator Marco Rubio, for one, opposes the decision and pledged to fight it.

In light of the furore Huawei is, of course, making contingency plans.

One of these appears to be the launch of its own operating system under the trademarked name Hongmeng.

But building a new ecosystem from scratch won’t be easy and prompts the question: who will make apps for a Huawei OS?

Alex Malafeev, co-founder of app analytics company Sensor Tower, asserted if Huawei remained on the Entity List it would be “impossible” for US-based app publishers to do business with the company. This, he said, means Huawei OS users likely wouldn’t have access to a number of top apps, including Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Snapchat, among others.

“Developers from other countries who are not barred from engaging in business will be able to create apps for the platform, but it will still be missing these extremely popular apps, some of which are used daily by hundreds of millions of people,” Malafeev told Mobile World Live (MWL).

He added some developers might try to create clones of popular apps, but said those versions would likely come with limited features and be otherwise lacking due to having significantly fewer development resources than the originals.

Anshel Sag, a mobile analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, agreed the inability to offer popular apps could be a sticking point for Huawei.

“I think the biggest weakness of any operating system is whether or not it supports the apps that people care about. Outside of China, those apps are usually a mixture of Google apps and smaller developers that build applications for certain purposes.”

Attracting talent
Ban aside, Sag told MWL Huawei will have to prove to developers that it will reach a large enough market to justify building an app for the company’s new OS.

He explained developers tend to prioritise releases based on the size of the install base they are pursuing, balancing that against the cost of acquiring the audience.

“I think the biggest factor in whether or not a developer would build to Huawei’s OS really comes down to the economics of it…if the market is big enough, then the question of simplicity of porting and the cost of porting comes next.”

If developers don’t see the value of having access to Huawei’s base of installed users, Sag said the company will most likely have to provide compensation for them to build apps for its OS.

“Huawei would be starting at the ground floor with this effort,” he said, adding “they don’t even have their existing installed base of devices as a point of leverage to get developers onboard.”

Time to market
With many popular apps likely out of frame, at least for the time being, Malafeev said Sensor Tower expects Huawei’s ecosystem would initially consist primarily of games, utilities and photo/video apps.

So far, details about what exactly Huawei’s OS would look like are scarce. But Malafeev said the company would most likely cater to developers used to creating apps for Android, which he noted is the dominant mobile platform in Huawei’s home market of China.

In that case, he said, apps could take anywhere from days to months to develop. However, he added there will undoubtedly be “numerous apps hurried to completion in order to be available at its launch.”

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.