Huawei targets Google’s Android dominance with Harmony OS

HONG KONG – Huawei Technologies Co. is launching its own operating system for mobile phones on Wednesday, the company’s latest attempt to free itself from U.S. suppliers and an attempt to challenge Google’s dominance in smartphone software.

The Chinese tech giant plans to launch its new operating system, known as Harmony OS, on many of its smartphones at an online-only event, as well as unveil smart devices that will also run. the company’s latest in-house software.

Huawei gadgets have been barred from updating Google’s Android operating system since August, following a series of US sanctions against the Shenzhen-based company. The ban also cost Huawei access to the US company’s smartphone software package, called Google Mobile Services, which is widely used in the industry.

As Huawei’s smartphone sales are plummeting after briefly dominating the world a year ago, the company is targeting other phone vendors who they hope will embrace Harmony OS, posing a direct challenge to the dominance of Google Android in the market.

Samsung Electronics Co., Xiaomi Corp. and the rest of the world’s best-selling phone makers besides Apple Inc.

all use Google’s Android. Chinese sellers account for 57% of the global handset market, according to market research firm Canalys and could be potential takers if Huawei’s Harmony OS develops into a worthy match.

However, convincing vendors to adopt Harmony OS can be an uphill battle. With an established network of software developers and billions of consumers accustomed to its interface, Google Android dominates the smartphone market. More than eight smartphones sold out of 10 run on Android. A Google spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Other challengers have had limited success in overthrowing Google. Years ago, Samsung released a rival operating system called “Tizen,” but it failed to gain traction among the company’s smartphone users. Microsoft Corp.

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has also tried to sell smartphones with some version of its Windows operating system with little success.

Huawei, the world’s largest maker of telecommunications equipment, has been pushing to reduce its reliance on US-made technology and focus on software after selling its low-budget phone unit l ‘last year. The effort has become more urgent since Washington blocked Huawei from purchasing chips from its major suppliers last August.

Earlier this year, Wang Chenglu, head of consumer software at Huawei, said the company’s goal is to end the year with Harmony OS installed on more than 200 million Huawei devices, including smartphones. , and more than 100 million devices manufactured by outside companies.

Huawei’s challenges include creating a large enough ecosystem of software developers, building a user base large enough to entice developers and convince outside vendors to abandon a proven product, analysts say.

“It’s a giant leap,” said Nicole Peng, analyst at market research firm Canalys. There are no success stories of an alternative operating system out there, she said. “It takes many, many years to be able to build this ecosystem and get all stakeholders to agree and see the benefits.”

Handel Jones, chief executive of consultancy firm International Business Strategies Inc., said Huawei would have an easier time pushing adoption of its new operating system in China, where reliance on Google apps is lower. The chances of mass market adoption of Harmony OS in the next decade “are 80-90%,” he said.

The challenge is in the United States, Europe, India and other countries where Google Apps dominates and China-based vendors don’t want to sacrifice sales, he said.

Huawei has released few details on the look and feel of the new operating system. Huawei unveiled Harmony OS at a developer conference in Dongguan city, south China, in 2019. It has since rolled out it to a range of consumer devices since then – including its lineup. laptops, PCs and smartwatches – but so far it has stopped. to make it available on their smartphones.

Huawei has been pushing developers for years to create programs for the company’s nascent app store, called AppGallery. The store has 540 million monthly users and 2.7 million developers to work on new apps, Huawei said. The company has already launched apps to replace those to which it has lost access. For example, a program called Petal Maps replaces Google Maps, while Petal Search replaces the phone’s Google search bar.

The new operating system will not restore user access to popular apps like Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, from which Huawei is cut. Many of these apps have long been unavailable in China, the world’s largest market for smartphones.

Last year, Richard Yu, Huawei’s head of consumer activities, said the company may eventually make Harmony OS available to other smartphone vendors, claiming it will be an operating system. open source similar to Google Android.

Representatives of Xiaomi Corp., and Oppo and Vivo of BBK Electronics Co. – China’s three biggest mobile phone brands – did not answer questions about whether they were ready to use the operating system. from Huawei. Honor, the mid-range phone brand Huawei created last year, did not immediately comment.

A handful of Chinese manufacturers are already using Harmony OS on their smart devices, including home appliance giant Midea, the two companies said. The operating system pairs with Huawei smartphones, although the devices are only on sale in China, Huawei said. Midea’s website offers gadgets like water purifiers and ovens that run on the new operating system. Midea did not respond to a request for comment.

Canalys analyst Ms. Peng said Huawei could be more successful selling its operating system to dominant vendors in markets such as Africa, where Google’s mobile software is less established and developers local software is more important.

“It might be a bit of a stretch, but it’s still possible,” she said.

Write to Dan Strumpf at [email protected]

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