GUANGZHOU, China – In mid-2019, Huawei launched its own operating system – HarmonyOS – in response to U.S. actions that cut it off from Google software.
It was the Chinese tech giant’s most ambitious mobile software push, which it was hoped would help its cellphone business survive.
On Monday, Huawei announced that HarmonyOS will start rolling out to its smartphones from April. Huawei phone users could download it as an update.
A spokesperson confirmed to CNBC that users outside of China could download it as well. The company’s new foldable Mate X2 device, which launched on Monday, is said to be one of the first to get HarmonyOS along with other handsets to follow.
In 2019, Huawei was put on a US blacklist known as the Entity List, which blocked US companies from exporting technology to the Chinese company. As a result, Google cut ties with Huawei. This meant that Huawei could not use licensed Google Android on its smartphones. This is not a big deal in China where Google apps like Gmail are blocked. But in foreign markets, where Android is the most popular operating system, it was a big blow.
The Trump administration’s move, combined with sanctions aimed at cutting Huawei from critical chip supplies, hurt the Chinese telecommunications company’s smartphone sales.
Huawei will have to find a source of chips for its smartphones. But HarmonyOS is the other “crucial” part to ensure the survival of Huawei’s smartphone business, according to Nicole Peng, analyst at Canalys.
Huawei touts HarmonyOS as an operating system that can run on all devices, from smartphones to TVs. In September, he released the second version of HarmonyOS and wooed developers to build apps for the platform.
And in view of international users, Huawei has redesigned the interface of its App Store called AppGallery and improved navigation functions.
A guest holds their phone showing a photo taken during Huawei’s press conference unveiling its new HarmonyOS operating system in Dongguan, Guangdong province, August 9, 2019.
Fred Dufour | AFP | Getty Images
“The search built into the AppGallery will help a lot in terms of helping people discover apps,” Peng said.
In addition, Huawei will offer the update to existing users of its devices, which should help boost the use of the operating system abroad.
Currently, Huawei’s AppGallery has over 530 million monthly active users.
The challenges of the smartphone ahead
Applications are essential for mobile operating systems. Apple’s iOS and Google Android are the two most dominant operating systems, as millions of developers create apps for their respective platforms.
Huawei offers a suite of applications such as mapping and a browser under a banner called Huawei Mobile Services (HMS). HMS is similar to Google Mobile Services and offers development kits that can be used to integrate things like location services into apps. HMS has 2.3 million registered developers worldwide.
And in China, it is able to integrate popular applications.
However, in international markets, Huawei could face some challenges. For example, its app store lacks major names such as Facebook or Google apps, which are important to users overseas.
“If Huawei is to be successful in selling phones overseas, then it needs the right apps, which are unlikely to come to HarmonyOS. So having access to Google mobile services again is essential to grow your business. international telephony, ”Bryan Ma, said via email, vice president of device research at IDC.
With Google Android and iOS dominant outside of China, Huawei will also have the daunting task of convincing users to change.
“In terms of challenges, it is still in areas… (if) the product will be able to be accepted by heavy users using, for example, Google applications and Google services,” said Peng of Canalys.
Meanwhile, Huawei is also potentially lacking key supplies for making phones in the future due to the US decision to cut it off chips. Huawei’s Mate X2 uses Huawei’s proprietary Kirin 9000 processor. Richard Yu, CEO of the mainstream company, said the company has enough production capacity for the foldable phone, even after warning last year that stocks could run out.
That, along with the uncertainty of success with the operating system, is a big challenge Huawei faces.
“Huawei could continue to lead the local Chinese market without such concerns (regarding HarmonyOS apps), but there’s a much bigger problem as it struggles to get components in the first place,” Ma said. .
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