Huawei buys time with its fledgling Harmony OS as it waits to see if it can still use Google’s Android

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Huawei is not planning to install Harmony on its smartphones yet as Google’s Android remains the top choice.

Huawei has unveiled its long-awaited proprietary operating system. Photo: Agence France-Presse.

Huawei Technologies has officially unveiled its self-made operating system, saying that migrating apps from Android to the new system is relatively easy but that it would prefer to continue using Google’s Android OS on its smartphones if allowed.

Huawei’s Harmony OS is ready for smartphones anytime,” Richard Yu Chengdong, chief executive of Huawei’s consumer business group, said at the start of the company’s 2019 Developer Conference on Friday. “Migrating Android apps to Harmony is very easy and only requires one or two days’ work.”

However, Huawei is not planning to install Harmony on its smartphones yet as Google’s Android remains the top choice and it wants to protect the current app ecosystem, Yu said.

Harmony [known as Hongmeng in Chinese] has been widely anticipated after the world’s number two smartphone vendor was put on a US trade blacklist in May, blocking its ability to buy a range of American-made technology including Google’s Android for smartphones and Microsoft’s Windows operating system for personal computers. Yu said Harmony was capable of supporting a range of products and its own ecosystem and is compatible with all Android applications and existing web applications.

Analysts gave the launch a cautious welcome.

Using Harmony on other devices first, instead of smartphones, is a thoughtful move by Huawei,” said Jia Mo, an analyst from research agency Canalys. “Huawei needs to consider its relationship with Google and it has still not had definitive word from the US that it has been banned from using Android for good.

Past attempts by other companies to create an Android alternative have not been successful. Microsoft tried to develop a layer on its Windows OS that could run Android apps in the past but the American software giant failed as not all Android apps could run smoothly. Samsung also tried to replace Android on smartphones with its Tizen OS, but that effort also came to nothing.

As a brand-new OS, Huawei will need to continuously optimize and improve it,” said Jia. “Carrying it on the internet of things (IoT) devices first will help it educate developers and let consumers have the chance to try it out, allowing it to mature and open up more opportunities over time.

Unlike Google and Apple, which use separate operating systems for different types of electronic products, Huawei’s Harmony, based on a light microkernel system, can adapt to different scenarios and is capable of being shared across different devices seamlessly, according to Huawei.

Harmony will first be used on new smart display products to be launched by budget brand Honor on Saturday, according to Yu, confirming an earlier Post report. The first smart display product by Huawei will also be equipped with its HiSilicon “Honghu 818” intelligent chipset and smart pop-up camera for large screens.

Huawei is considering installing Harmony on its new flagship handset the Mate 30, said Yu, without giving a firm launch date. Huawei will make Harmony an open-source technology for all developers and aims to make it the world’s most advanced operating system for the next generation of smartphones and IoT applications, added Yu.

Huawei plans US$1.4 billion new Shanghai R&D center.

Harmony will be ready for domestic PCs, smart wear products and automobiles in 2020, smart speakers and earphones in 2021, and more devices like virtual reality glasses after 2022, according to Huawei, which did not give a timetable for installing it on its smartphones.

Apps are the challenge for this new OS,” said Bryan Ma, vice-president for client devices research at IDC. “Even if they are trying to make it easy for Android developers to port their apps over, it still requires an effort to recompile and test their apps. Also, Google is unlikely to port its first-party apps over, so it’s still a thorn in Huawei’s side for their overseas phones.”

Before Friday’s launch, founder and chief executive Ren Zhengfei indicated in an earlier interview that the self-made OS would “likely” run faster than Android and that Huawei was working on an app ecosystem to rival the Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store.

Other company executives, including chairman Liang Hua and Catherine Chen Lifang, president of public affairs and communications, indicated that a proprietary OS was being built, not for phones but for IoT devices, such as the in-home smart display products.

Google and Microsoft both suspended access to their products for new Huawei devices with only a 90-day reprieve from the US government, in the wake of it being put on the Commerce Department’s Entity List in May.

Although US President Donald Trump said at the Osaka G20 summit in June that some restrictions would be lifted against Huawei, the precise situation remains unclear.

The US trade ban wiped out at least 10 million smartphone shipments for Huawei in the second quarter, preventing it from drawing level with or even outstripping global leader Samsung, Yu said in his presentation.

The US trade war against China has made it impossible for Huawei to become the world’s No 1 smartphone vendor by the end of the year,” said Yu.

Source: South China Morning Post

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