As a result of US sanctions that have blocked its access to US-origin technology, Huawei Technologies, the world’s biggest smartphone maker, said it will switch from Google’s widely-used Android operating system to its own Harmony OS, in a pivotal move as it seeks to keep its smartphones competitive.
Richard Yu, head of Huawei’s consumer business group, said at its developer conference on Thursday that Huawei’s proprietary Harmony OS would be installed on all of its smartphones next year.
Yu said, “The latest version of Harmony OS has been officially opened to developers globally,” and that Huawei is accelerating its development of an app ecosystem around Harmony. “The Huawei mobile service system now has 1.8 million app developers and 490 million active users, as well as 96,000 apps.”
U.S. President Donald Trump has targeted Huawei and threatened to cut off the company’s access to chips that power its smartphones as well as the Android OS, so the Huawei developer conference is giving the technology world a glimpse of the company’s future business plans amid the US ban.
Huawei was added to the U.S. entity list in May 2019 which barred Google from providing technical support for new Huawei phone models using Android, and from Google Mobile Services (GMS), the bundle of developer services upon which most Android apps are based.
As a result of U.S. actions, Huawei, with the approval of the Chinese-government will use the Harmony OS in its phone and other 5G products and will also support the company in other research and development areas.
Technology analysts are skeptical about the ability of Harmony to replace Android in overseas markets where many users take Google apps such as YouTube and Gmail for granted but they also note the fact that Huawei can take several years to build its ecosystem simply by focusing on domestic sales.
The US-China tech war has seen Huawei and leading Chinese AI companies such as Megvii and SenseTime added to the US trade blacklist, and Chinese apps such as TikTok and WeChat threatened with bans for alleged national security risks. All of the Chinese companies have denied these allegations and Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei has accused the US of trying to choke off his company as a global tech champion.
Analysts say Huawei is literally facing a life or death situation, and must re-engineer its supply chains across multiple business segments, with stockpiled US components only expected to last until around the middle of 2021.
A report from tech research firm IDC notes that, “The situation is looking bleaker for Huawei as supplier after supplier is under pressure to stop working with them. An upside scenario would be a change in US policy after the election, but there are a lot of unknowns and it could still take a significant amount of time. It’s not clear how long Huawei can weather the storm.”
Huawei officially unveiled Harmony a microkernel-based distributed OS, can be used in everything from smartphones to smart speakers, wearables, and in-vehicle systems to create a shared ecosystem across devices at last year’s developer conference and said that that migrating apps over from Android would be relatively easy.