Huawei unveils own operating system to compete with Android

Chinese telecom giant Huawei has unveiled its own operating system, as it faces the threat of losing access to Android systems amid escalating US-China trade tensions.

Richard Yu, head of Huawei’s consumer business, told the company’s annual developer conference in the southern city of Dongguan on Friday that the new system – called HarmonyOS or HongMeng in Chinese – would “bring more harmony and convenience to the world”.

The highly-anticipated software is considered crucial for the tech group’s survival as it confronts a looming White House ban on US companies selling technology products to Huawei which could end its access to Google’s Android operating system.

Yu said the new systems was a “future-oriented OS” set to be “more smooth and secure,” which he said was “completely different from Android and iOS” – Apple‘s operating system.

Huawei said the first version of the operating system would launch later this year in its smart screen products, before expanding across a range of devices including wearable technology over the next three years.

“If you’re asking when we will apply this to the smartphone, we can do it at any time,” said Yu, adding that they gave priority to using Google‘s Android system, which is compatible with Harmony.

“However, if we cannot use it [Android] in the future, we can immediately switch to the Harmony OS,” he said.

In March, the company was swept into a trade war between the United States and Chinawhich has seen punitive tariffs slapped on billions of dollars of two-way trade.

Huawei – considered the world leader in superfast fifth-generation or 5G equipment – has been blacklisted by US President Donald Trump amid suspicions it provides a backdoor for Chinese intelligence services, something the firm denies.

On Thursday, Beijing slammed US rules banning Huawei and other Chinese companies from government contracts amounted to “abuse of state power”.

‘Plan B’

As a result of US moves to blacklist Huawei, US companies are theoretically no longer allowed to sell technology products to the firm, but a three-month exemption period – which ends next week – was granted by Washington before the measure came into force.

That ban could prevent the Chinese tech firm from getting hold of key hardware and software including smartphone chips and elements of the Google Android operating system, which equips the vast majority of smartphones in the world, including Huawei’s.

Huawei has reportedly been working on its own operating system since 2012, but the group has always said publicly that it did not want to replace its Android phones with a home operating system.

Yu told German newspaper Die Welt in an interview published in March that creating their own operating system was “Plan B”.

Huawei will be able to “develop at a lower cost a brand new ecosystem” and “mitigate its dependence on US suppliers for its software needs,” Kenny Liew, a technology analyst at Fitch Solutions told AFP news agency.

However, smartphones using the system would mainly be confined to the Chinese market, Liew said.

Developing an operating system and the entire ecosystem that accompanies it is a complex affair.

Apart from Google’s Android, the only other popular operating system is Apple’s iOS, available only on iPhones.

Microsoft pulled the plug on its Windows Phone platform earlier this year, while Samsung’s Tizen system is barely-known compared with Android and iOS.

Without any access to the full version of Android or the popular services of Google – not to mention the many applications available on the Google Play store – Huawei may have trouble convincing customers outside China to buy its phones.


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