Huawei unveils its operating system HarmonyOS

Its mid-range brand Honor will market the first device supported by the OS and not Android, smart TV in two versions – Smart Screen and Smart Screen PRO

George Zhao, President of HONOR, a branch of Huawei, unveiled HONOR Vision Series, the world’s first smart screen equipped with Harmony OS during the Huawei developer conference at the Huawei Campus in Dongguan, Guangdong province on August 10, 2019. / AFP / FRED DUFOUR
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Chinese tech giant Huawei has unveiled an operating system for smartphones and other devices – HongmengOS, or HarmonyOS – over the weekend at the Huawei Developer Conference in the Chinese city of Dongguan.

Analysts had anticipated the roll-out as US trade restrictions imposed in May threaten to deny the Chinese company access to Google-owned Android.

Huawei revealed the first device supported by HarmonyOS on Saturday, a smart television in two versions – Smart Screen and Smart Screen PRO.

The TV will be available from Thursday in China, said George Zhao, president of Honor, Huawei's mid-range brand. The appliance will be marketed by the unit. Last week, Honor said reservations for the Smart Screen had exceeded 100,000 units.

"HarmonyOS is completely different from Android and iOS [from Apple]. You can develop your apps and then flexibly deploy them across a range of different devices," said Richard Yu, Huawei's chief executive of consumer business group, at the conference.

“It has trustworthy and secure architecture and ensures smooth experience across all scenarios,” he said.

After the launch in China, the operating system will be gradually rolled out in other parts of the world.

On May 17, Washington placed Huawei on a commerce blacklist, barring US companies from doing business with China's biggest technology company. US tech companies such as Google were compelled to compile.

The Trump administration says Huawei devices could be exploited by the Chinese government for espionage, a claim the company denies.

Huawei later said it was developing its own operating system to ensure its users are not affected if they are unable to access the Android OS.

The following week, however, the White House backtracked on an immediate ban of Huawei, granting the company a three-month reprieve after US tech stocks tanked. At the developer conference, Huawei said it still wants to use Android on its smartphones but it can also swiftly move to its own OS, if required.

"If we cannot use it [Android] in the future, we can immediately switch to HarmonyOS," said Mr Yu. Moving to Huawei OS is "very convenient", he said.

The Google restrictions, if imposed after the three-month reprieve ends on August 19, will only affect future Huawei smartphone users.

Current Huawei users will continue to have access to the Google Play Store and all Android applications, as well as security updates for Android. Customers will also have access to Android Open Source Project, which is available for free and offers outdated versions of apps. Applications such as Gmail, YouTube and Chrome browser that are available through Google's Play Store will not be installed on new Huawei handsets because these services require a commercial agreement with the American company.

However, the impact is expected to be minimal in the Chinese company's home market, which is host to more than half of its customers. Most Google mobile apps are banned in China where alternatives are offered by domestic competitors such as Tencent and Baidu.

Huawei's European business, its second-biggest market, could be affected as it licences services from Google in Europe.

As the world's second-largest producer of handsets, Huawei shipped 59 million smartphones globally in the second quarter of this year, up from 54 million during the same period last year, according to US researcher International Data Corporation.

According to Google, there are about 2.5 billion active Android devices worldwide. In the second quarter of 2018, nearly 88 per cent of all smartphones sold were using the Android OS, according to market researcher Statista.

HarmonyOS over the next three years is expected to be optimised to support a broader range of devices, including wearables.