GUANGZHOU, China – In mid-2019, Huawei launched its own operating system – HarmonyOS – in response to US actions that cut it off from Google’s software.
This was the most ambitious push of the Chinese mobile software giant, which hoped to help its business survive.
On Monday, Huawei announced that HarmonyOS will be available on its smartphones in April. Huawei phone users will be able to download it as an update.
A spokesman confirmed to CNBC that consumers outside China will also be able to download it. The company̵
In 2019, Huawei was included in the US blacklist, known as the Entity List, which restricted US companies from exporting technology to the Chinese company. As a result, Google severed ties with Huawei. This meant that Huawei could not use licensed Google Android on its smartphones. It’s not a big deal in China, where Google apps like Gmail are blocked. But in overseas markets, where Android is the most popular operating system, it was a big blow.
The move by the Trump administration, combined with sanctions aimed at disrupting Huawei’s critical supply of chips, has affected smartphone sales by the Chinese telecommunications company.
Huawei will have to find a source of chip supplies for its smartphones. But HarmonyOS is the other “critical” part of ensuring the survival of Huawei’s smartphone business, according to Nicole Peng, an analyst at Canalys.
Development of HarmonyOS
Huawei advertises HarmonyOS as an operating system that can run on a variety of devices from smartphones to TVs. The second version of HarmonyOS was launched in September and courted developers to make applications for the platform.
And for international users, Huawei has redesigned the interface for its app store, known as AppGallery, and improved navigation features.
A guest holds his phone showing a photo taken during Huawei’s press conference presenting its new HarmonyOS operating system in Dongguan, Guangdong Province on August 9, 2019.
Fred Dufour AFP | Getty images
“Search integrated into AppGallery will help a lot in helping people find apps,” Peng said.
Also, Huawei will target the update to existing users of its devices, which should help use the operating system abroad.
Huawei’s AppGallery currently has over 530 million active users per month.
Challenges for smartphones
Applications are critical to mobile operating systems. Apple’s iOS and Google Android are the two most dominant operating systems because they have millions of developers making applications for their respective platforms.
Huawei has a range of applications such as mapping and a banner browser called Huawei Mobile Services (HMS). HMS is similar to Google Mobile Services and offers developer kits that can be used to integrate things like location services into applications. HMS has 2.3 million registered developers worldwide.
And in China, it is able to bring on board popular applications.
In international markets, however, Huawei may face some challenges. For example, its app store lacks key names such as Facebook or Google apps that are important to users abroad.
“If Huawei wants to succeed in selling phones abroad, then it needs the right apps that are unlikely to arrive on HarmonyOS. So gaining access to Google Mobile Services is again crucial if it wants to build its International Telephone Business, “Brian Ma, vice president of device research at IDC, said in an email.
With Google Android and iOS dominating outside of China, Huawei will also have the daunting task of convincing consumers to switch.
“As for the challenges, it’s still in areas … (whether) the product can be accepted by heavy users using, for example, Google applications and Google services,” said Peng of Canalys.
Huawei, meanwhile, is potentially missing key supplies to make phones in the future due to the US intention to cut it off from the chips. Huawei’s Mate X2 uses Huawei’s own Kirin 9000 processor. Richard Yu, chief executive of the consumer business, said the company had enough production capacity for the foldable phone, even after warning last year that supplies would end.
This, along with the uncertainty of success with the operating system, is a major challenge facing Huawei.
“Huawei may continue to manage the local Chinese market without such concerns (about HarmonyOS applications), but it has a much bigger problem as it struggles to get components in the first place,” Ma said.