Chinese technology giant, Huawei, last week introduced its own proprietary smartphone Operating System (OS). This comes as the company grapples with a ban by the United States government which restricts it from using American technology in its products.
The new system, HarmonyOS, is part of Huawei’s broader Internet of Things (IoT) strategy where it is trying to create a consistent experience across several connected devices through its software. This will be deployed on devices ranging from smartphones to smartwatches, and even smart speakers and in-vehicle systems.
HarmonyOS – also known as HongmengOS – is completely different from Google’s Android and iOS (Apple’s operating system), and was made to “bring more harmony and convenience to the world,” CEO of Huawei’s Consumer Business Group, Richard Yu, said after the launch.
More crucially, launching the new operating system is a back-up plan for Huawei should it be cut off totally from U.S. technology. Based on allegations that it was providing a backdoor for Chinese intelligence services, the tech company was placed on Washington’s blacklist – known as the Entity List – which restricts American firms from doing business with it. Thus, U.S. firms now have to request a special license to sell to Huawei.
Huawei uses the Android operating system for its smartphones. And a big reason for developing its own operating system according to analysts is that not having access to Google’s Android could badly affect the company, which is now the second-largest smartphone maker in the world, only behind Samsung.
Moreover, Yu explained that the situation with Google remains “unclear” but he stressed that Huawei would prefer to continue using Android on its smartphones. However, if it is unable to, then the company would deploy HarmonyOS immediately. “If we cannot use [Android] in the future, we can immediately switch to HarmonyOS,” Yu explained.
A result of this development is increased competition in the mobile marketplace between American tech powerhouses Google and Apple, and their Chinese counterpart, Huawei. But while this represents a significant step in reducing the Chinese firm’s reliance on American tech systems, there are no immediate plans to replace Google‘s Android, at least not in the next three years.
In fact, the company seems to still be test-running the new system as it did not include its smartphones among the devices the OS will be deployed on. The timeline for the deployment on its devices as announced includes watches and bracelets by 2020; connected speakers and headphones in 2021; Augmented Reality (AR) glasses in 2022 as well as some notebook models.
Besides, Huawei’s OS may be an open-source and supporter of Internet-of-Things (IoT) unlike Google’s Android, its value is currently next to nothing without mobile applications. The HarmonyOS is still an “empty wallet” according to Nairametrics when compared to Android which is home to over 2.5 million downloadable applications.
There is also the issue of the multi-functional tendency of HarmonyOS as a problem for developers. This is because developing an app that is suitable for all devices might result in poor user experience. Essentially, the uniqueness of an app reduces if its functions are multiple.
“For instance, when I put an experience on a TV that also needs to work on a phone, I either have to have a massive amount of conditional logic – in essence, building two separate user interfaces – or I build to the lowest common denominator, making both experiences look poor,” the Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, Michael Facemire said.
Considering all factors, it is hard to see HarmonyOS replacing the mobile operating system for Huawei anytime soon. The company has also made clear that it would rather stick to working with Google than attempt a system switch.