After US sanctions, a Chinese technology giant launches its own operating system to compete with Android; Samsung and Microsoft both failed in similar challenges.
Huawei Technologies Co. launched its self-developed mobile operating system on Wednesday, the latest attempt by the company to break free from US suppliers and challenge Google’s dominance in smartphone software.
The Chinese technology behemoth plans to unveil its new operating system, dubbed Harmony OS, across a large number of its smartphones during an online-only event, as well as smart devices that will also run the company’s latest in-house software.
Since August, Huawei devices have been unable to receive updates to Google’s Android operating system, as a result of a series of US sanctions against the Shenzhen-based company. Huawei was also denied access to Google’s package of smartphone software known as Google Mobile Services, which is widely used in the industry.
While Huawei’s own smartphone sales have fallen precipitously since briefly topping the world a year ago, the company is pursuing other handset vendors in the hope that they will adopt Harmony OS, posing a direct challenge to Google Android’s market dominance.
Apart from Apple Inc., Samsung Electronics Co., Xiaomi Corp., and the rest of the world’s top-selling phone makers all use Google’s Android operating system. According to market research firm Canalys, Chinese vendors account for 57% of the global handset market and could be potential buyers if Huawei’s Harmony OS proves to be a viable match.
Convincing vendors to adopt Harmony OS, on the other hand, may prove difficult. Google Android dominates the smartphone market, thanks to an established network of software developers and billions of users accustomed to its interface. Android powers more than eight out of every ten smartphones sold. A spokesman for Google did not respond to a request for comment.
Other challengers have had varying degrees of success in dethroning Google. Samsung launched a competing operating system called “Tizen” several years ago, but it has yet to gain traction among the company’s smartphone users. Microsoft Corp. also attempted unsuccessfully to sell smartphones running a version of its Windows operating system.
Huawei, the world’s largest manufacturer of telecommunications equipment, has been racing to reduce its reliance on American-made technology and refocusing on software following the sale of its low-cost phone unit last year. The effort has become more urgent following Washington’s August ban on Huawei purchasing chips from its primary suppliers.
Earlier this year, Huawei’s head of consumer software, Wang Chenglu, stated that the company’s goal was to end the year with Harmony OS installed on over 200 million Huawei devices, including smartphones, and over 100 million devices manufactured by third parties.
Huawei’s challenges, according to analysts, include building a large enough ecosystem of software developers, attracting developers with a large enough user base, and convincing outside vendors to abandon a tried-and-true product.
“It’s a massive leap,” Nicole Peng, an analyst at market research firm Canalys, explained. There is no successful alternative operating system, she stated. “It takes many, many years to build up that ecosystem and convince all stakeholders of its value.”
Handel Jones, CEO of consulting firm International Business Strategies Inc., believes Huawei will have an easier time promoting its new operating system in China due to the country’s lower reliance on Google apps. Harmony OS’s chances of mass market adoption in the next decade are “80 to 90%,” he said.
The issue is in the United States, Europe, India, and other countries where Google Apps is dominant and vendors based in China are unwilling to sacrifice sales, he explained.
Huawei has provided few details about the new operating system’s appearance and feel. Huawei unveiled Harmony OS in 2019 at a developers conference in Dongguan, southern China. It has since expanded its availability to a variety of consumer devices, including its line of laptops, PCs, and smartwatches, but has thus far refrained from making it available on its smartphones.
Huawei has been urging developers for years to create applications for the company’s nascent app store, called AppGallery. Huawei said the store has 540 million monthly users and 2.7 million developers working on new apps. The company has already launched some replacement apps for those whose access has been revoked. Petal Maps, for example, replaces Google Maps, and Petal Search replaces the phone’s Google search bar.
The new operating system will not reintroduce users to popular apps like Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram, from which Huawei has been barred. Numerous such applications have long been unavailable in China, the world’s largest smartphone market.
Huawei’s consumer-business chief, Richard Yu, stated last year that the company may eventually make Harmony OS available to other smartphone vendors, describing it as an open-source operating system similar to Google Android.
BBK Electronics Co
Representatives from Xiaomi Corp., BBK Electronics Co.’s Oppo and Vivo brands—three of China’s largest smartphone manufacturers—did not respond to questions about their willingness to use Huawei’s operating system. Honor, Huawei’s midrange phone brand that was spun off last year, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to both companies, a handful of Chinese manufacturers, including home appliance giant Midea, are already using Harmony OS on their smart appliances. Huawei said the operating system is compatible with Huawei smartphones, though the devices are only available in China. On Midea’s website, the company showcases gadgets such as water purifiers and ovens that run on the new operating system. Midea declined to comment on a request for comment.
According to Ms. Peng of Canalys, Huawei may have a better chance of selling its operating system to vendors with a strong presence in markets such as Africa, where Google’s mobile software is less entrenched and local software developers are more prominent.
“It’s a stretch, but it is possible,” she explained.