Friday, 11 September 2020 05:08

Huawei positions own mobile OS, HarmonyOS, as rival to Android Featured

Richard Yu addressing the Huawei developers' conference in Dongguan on Thursday. Richard Yu addressing the Huawei developers' conference in Dongguan on Thursday. Courtesy YouTube

Chinese telecommunications equipment vendor Huawei Technologies will release its own mobile operating system, HarmonyOS, by year-end and position it as an alternative to Google's Android mobile operating system, a senior company official told a developers' conference in Dongguan on Thursday. The conference was streamed live on YouTube.

HarmonyOS was initially unveiled in August 2019 at last year's Huawei developer conference. But the message this year from Richard Yu, chief executive of Huawei's Consumer Division, and Wang Chenglu, president of the Consumer Business Group's software department, came with more urgency this time as the company is now facing a literal struggle for survival after the latest round of sanctions placed on it by the US.

Wang told the attendees: "The milestone that we're marking is that we are supporting Huawei devices from HarmonyOS 2.0, but at the same time HarmonyOS may also be available to other vendors' devices. HarmonyOS will be available to all hardware manufacturers."

A beta version of HarmonyOS for smartwatches, smart TVs and car infotainment systems was made available to developers on Thursday while the smartphone version will be put out in December.

Last month, new export control rule changes were introduced by the US Commerce Department, mandating a need for licences for any transaction involving items subject to Commerce export control jurisdiction where a party on the Entity List is involved, such as when Huawei (or other Entity List entities) acts as a purchaser, intermediate, or end user.

In May 2019, the US placed Huawei on its Entity List; American firms cannot sell products made in the US with more than 25% of American content to companies placed on this list without obtaining a licence. But Huawei was able to easily skirt around this restriction by getting products it needed supplied by branches of US firms located outside the physical boundaries of the US.

The US came back in May this year with further restrictions aimed at cutting off Huawei's supply of semiconductors which it gets mostly from Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company. This was done through the Foreign Direct Product Rule that makes it necessary for any company — American or foreign — that sells American products or those made using American technology to require a permit before selling to Huawei.

Due to the May 2019 restrictions, Google has been unable to sell the proprietary apps such as the Google Playstore, Gmail, YouTube, Maps, Drive, and Photos to Huawei; the company has been making do with a modified build of the open source version on Android which does not have these apps.

Google applied for a waiver to sell these apps to the Chinese firm but did not receive the necessary permission. Microsoft, however, was given permission to continue supplying Huawei with Windows which are used on the company's laptops.

Yu said Huawei had shipped 240 million smartphones in 2019, making it the second biggest vendor, but added that software changes had affected sales in recent months with shipments falling to 107 million units for the first six months of this year.

As iTWire has pointed out, while the hardware on the the Huawei smartphones can match any competitor, the software is seriously handicapped without the proprietary Google apps.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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