Huawei used to be the world’s largest phone manufacturer – until the US introduced harmful sanctions in 2019. Among other things, it banned Huawei from using the official version of Google’s Android operating system on its smartphones. Now the Chinese technology giant hopes to make a comeback by developing its own operating system: HarmonyOS.
Huawei rolled out HarmonyOS for its latest smartphones today (June 2) and announced that they will update older phones to the new operating system throughout the year. The company’s stated goal is to reduce its dependence on Android, and develop a rival operating system that can compete with both Android and Apple̵
Technical observers are optimistic, HarmonyOS can take hold in China, where there is significant political pressure to create homemade alternatives to US technology offerings. And although HarmonyOS is just a copy of Android, it has at least the imprimatur of a Chinese tech giant to make it seem like a real domestic alternative. But it’s less clear whether HarmonyOS can become a real competitor abroad, especially given that US sanctions still prevent Huawei devices from incorporating popular apps from US technology giants such as Google and Facebook.
What is HarmonyOS?
Huawei first launched HarmonyOS in August 2019, four months after Google revoked the Chinese technology giant’s license to use the Android operating system. Although the company claims that HarmonyOS is “completely different from Android and iOS”, an independent review of Ars Technica found several clear signs that it is only a slightly modified version of Android.
The biggest difference between Android and HarmonyOS is that Huawei’s version is not officially licensed by Google, so it can not include Google apps. Huawei has instead developed its own alternative apps, including a Google replacement called Petal Search, Petal Maps instead of Google Maps, and a Huawei AppGallery instead of the Google Play Store. HarmonyOS also does not support major US-based apps such as Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.
Will HarmonyOS succeed in China?
There is a good chance that HarmonyOS can take hold in China, where the authorities are eager to replace Western technology with homemade alternatives. Beijing, for example, has ordered all government offices to replace foreign computers and software with Chinese technology by 2022. As the technological rivalry between the United States and China continues, HarmonyOS may become a more attractive alternative to Android and iOS, both controlled by US companies. .
In addition, Chinese consumers are unlikely to miss the US-based apps that are not available on HarmonyOS, because Facebook and the like are banned anyway. However, HarmonyOS supports Chinese options such as Weibo and WeChat.
Huawei said it plans to have 300 million devices running HarmonyOS by the end of 2021, which will provide evidence that the operating system is viable in the Chinese domestic market.
Will Phone Manufacturers Outside China Adopt HarmonyOS?
Huawei has said that it will make HarmonyOS open source software available to any phone maker that wants to use it (much like the open source Android operating system on which it is based). But HarmonyOS will be harder to sell outside of China, where consumers are more likely to have regular Western apps and the entire Google Play Store, and governments are more likely to face US diplomatic pressure to abandon Huawei technology.