Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s consumer division, gives a speech at the Huawei Developer Conference on September 10, 2020. Huawei has launched the second version of its HarmonyOS operating system.
GUANGZHOU, China – Huawei launched the second version of its operating system on Thursday, pitching it to third-party device makers as it tries to create a viable alternative to Google̵
Last year, Huawei eliminated HarmonyOS, its cross-device operating system. It came after the company was placed on the US Entity List, a blacklist that restricted certain US companies from selling their products to the Chinese tech giant.
Google has suspended trading with Huawei, forcing the company to release flagship smartphones without a licensed version of the US company’s Android operating system. Not a big deal in China, where Google services like Gmail or search are blocked. However, it matters in Huawei’s international markets, where consumers are used to using such apps.
While Huawei became the number one smartphone maker in the world in the second quarter, most of this was thanks to the Chinese market with its huge population, while international markets saw a steep decline.
The latest move is designed to bolster the number of developers on board by increasing the number of HarmonyOS users. Ultimately, a strong developer and user base would benefit from Huawei if it ultimately used HarmonyOS on their smartphones, which it hasn’t done yet.
Huawei claims HarmonyOS as a mobile operating system that can run on a number of different devices. Developers just need to build a version of the app that port across multiple hardware components, the company says.
On Thursday, Huawei launched HarmonyOS 2.0 and said a beta version of the operating system will be open to developers for devices such as smartwatches, TVs, and car head units from September 10 and for smartphones in December.
From those dates, developers will be able to experiment and develop apps for HarmonyOS.
“Maybe starting next year we will see smartphones with HarmonyOS,” said Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s consumer division, in a keynote speech on Thursday.
Huawei smartphones do not yet use HarmonyOS.
Bryan Ma, vice president of device research at IDC, said device makers may be interested in having HarmonyOS as a “fallback option” should they face similar bans on using Google. But they may not necessarily want to work with Huawei.
“On the other hand, they will think twice about working with a bitter rival who has competed so aggressively with them in China over the past year. I think they will explore their options but will not commit until there is more clarity on how they get there. US policy could change next year, “Ma told CNBC via email.
Question marks abroad
The two largest mobile operating systems right now – Google Android and Apple’s iOS – have been successful because they have millions of developers building apps for their respective app stores.
Huawei is working to build its high-quality app base. By opening HarmonyOS to more devices, Huawei hopes to get the operating system on as many devices as possible and increase the number of users. This will make it more interesting for developers to build apps. If Huawei eventually uses HarmonyOS on their smartphone, they will want an operating system that is as powerful as possible.
The Chinese giant has its own app store and other services such as maps under a banner called Huawei Mobile Services (HMS). HMS is similar to Google Mobile Services and offers developer kits that can be used to integrate elements such as location services into apps.
Huawei said 96,000 apps are integrated with HMS, up from 60,000 in May, the last time they publicly released such a figure. There are also 1.8 million developers on board, up from 1.4 million in May.
Huawei’s Yu launched HarmonyOS as a way for Chinese developers to bring their apps to overseas consumers, perhaps suggesting that Huawei wants to bring the operating system global. Meanwhile, Yu said he hopes HarmonyOS can help international developers serve Chinese consumers.
“We would like to be the bridge in between,” said Yu.
What’s unclear at this point is when Huawei might be launching HarmonyOS on their smartphones, a need that has become more pressing since it was cut off by Google last year.
Experts previously questioned HarmonyOS’s potential success in international markets, as it doesn’t have key apps like Spotify or Netflix and its unlikely Google will put its own apps on Huawei’s software.
Meanwhile, Huawei is facing problems beyond the software. The United States has changed a rule that requires foreign chip makers who use American equipment to produce components to obtain a license from Washington before they can sell semiconductors to Huawei. This has cut Huawei out of its main chip maker, TSMC, a move that could have huge implications for its ability to make smartphones and other devices. Huawei also has very few alternatives.