Huawei Reveals Info on Harmony, Its Alternative to Android

Huawei Technologies released details on HarmonyOS, its new operating system to replace Google’s Android on its smartphones and other devices. The Chinese company created its own OS in anticipation of the U.S. government’s expanded technology blacklist. Huawei consumer device business chief Richard Yu said the company would prefer to run Android but is ready to switch its phones to HarmonyOS “in just one or two days” if necessary. According to Yu, the open-source HarmonyOS will also work on smartwatches and other connected home devices.

The Wall Street Journal reports that “the company faces numerous hurdles to getting its operating system off the ground if it loses access to Android, and the stakes are high as smartphones make up a large chunk of the consumer-products revenue that comprises more than half of Huawei’s sales.” Consumers are notoriously reluctant to switch operating systems, and Huawei “must also encourage the development of a new ecosystem of smartphone apps and other software.”

Android and other Google software have “been crucial in making Huawei smartphones popular in Europe and many other Western markets.” In the first half of 2019, Huawei was the No. 2 smartphone manufacturer, behind only Samsung Electronics. Major U.S. carriers, however, don’t carry Huawei phones.

Huawei, which is also “the world’s largest maker of telecom gear, including equipment for the coming generation of superfast 5G networks,” saw soaring sales of its phones in China but “many analysts think Huawei’s international gadget business is likely to suffer heavily without consistent access to Android and Google’s suite of apps.”

At Counterpoint Research, research director Neil Shah said that, if deployed right now for smartphones, HarmonyOS “could be an uphill battle for Huawei, as still lots of work needs to be done to bring it to iOS or Google Android level at global scale.” Yu said HarmonyOS has been in development for two years, and chief executive Ren Zhengfei “has said it wasn’t originally intended to run on smartphones.”

The New York Times reports that “indeed, the first Huawei products to run on Harmony will not be smartphones but ‘smart screens’ that the company plans to release this year.” According to Yu, the OS will “gradually be incorporated into the company’s other smart devices over the next three years.” But, he added, there is no immediate plan to create a Harmony-based phone. Although sales rose in China, overall sales of Huawei devices have plummeted with the uncertainty of ongoing support for Google software.

As open-source software, HarmonyOS will be “freely available for developers to study, enhance and redistribute.” The original Chinese name for the operating system was Hongmeng, but “Huawei decided that the name would be too hard for non-Chinese speakers to pronounce.”