GUANGZHOU, China – In mid-2019, Huawei launched its own operating system, HarmonyOS, in response to US actions that isolated it from Google software.
It was the Chinese tech giant’s most ambitious mobile software push, and he hoped it would help its mobile phone business survive.
On Monday, Huawei announced that HarmonyOS would 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 also download it. The company’s new Mate X2 foldable device, launched on Monday, would be one of the first to get HarmonyOS with other phones to follow.
In 2019, Huawei was included in a US blacklist known as the Entity List, which restricted US companies from exporting technology to the Chinese company. Google cut ties with Huawei as a result. That meant Huawei couldn’t use licensed Google Android on its smartphones. That’s no 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 huge blow.
That move by the Trump administration, combined with sanctions designed to cut off Huawei from critical chip supplies, has hurt the Chinese telco’s smartphone sales.
Huawei will have to find a source of chip supply for its smartphones. But HarmonyOS is the other “critically important” part of ensuring the survival of Huawei’s smartphone business, according to Nicole Peng, an analyst at Canalys.
Huawei touts HarmonyOS as an operating system that can work on various devices, from smartphones to televisions. In September, it released the second version of HarmonyOS and has been courting developers to build apps for the platform.
And with an eye toward international users, Huawei redesigned the interface for its app store known as AppGallery and improved navigation features.
A guest holds her phone and shows a photo taken during Huawei’s press conference introducing its new HarmonyOS operating system in Dongguan, Guangdong province, on August 9, 2019.
Fred Dufour | AFP | fake images
“The search built into the AppGallery will go a long way in terms of helping people discover apps,” Peng said.
In addition, Huawei will send the update to existing users of its devices, which should help boost the use of the operating system abroad.
Currently, Huawei’s AppGallery has more than 530 million monthly active users.
Smartphone challenges ahead
Applications are essential for mobile operating systems. Apple’s IOS and Google Android are the two most dominant operating systems because they have millions of developers creating applications for their respective platforms.
Huawei has a suite of applications like maps and a browser under a banner called Huawei Mobile Services (HMS). HMS is similar to Google’s 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, you can incorporate popular apps.
However, in international markets, Huawei could face some challenges. For example, your app store is missing big names like Facebook or Google apps, which are important to users abroad.
“If Huawei wants to be successful in selling phones abroad, then it needs the right apps, which are unlikely to make it to HarmonyOS. So getting access to Google mobile services again is critical if you want to develop your international telephony business, “Bryan Ma, vice president of device research at IDC, said by email.
With Google Android and iOS dominating outside of China, Huawei will also have a difficult task convincing users to switch.
“In terms of challenges, it is still in areas … (if) the product will be able to be accepted by regular users using, for example, Google applications and Google services,” said Peng of Canalys.
Meanwhile, Huawei also potentially lacks key supplies to make phones in the future due to the US Huawei’s Mate X2 using Huawei’s proprietary Kirin 9000 processor. Richard Yu, chief executive of the consumer business, said the company has enough production capacity for the foldable phone even after warning last year that supplies could run out.
That, coupled with the uncertainty of success with the operating system, is a huge challenge Huawei faces.
“Huawei could continue to push the local Chinese market without such worries (about HarmonyOS apps), but there is a much bigger problem where it is struggling to get components first,” Ma said.