Huawei is bringing HarmonyOS, the operating system from the Shenzhen-based company, to smartphones for the first time this week. The announcement came during a launch event on June 2, when Huawei also announced a new smartwatch model, the Huawei Watch 3. Until now, HarmonyOS was reserved for smartwatches, smart speakers, televisions and other lifestyle products. However, Huawei has worked hard to turn the software into a full-fledged alternative to Google’s hugely popular Android operating system, which powers phones from Google itself, Samsung, OnePlus, LG, and others.
Huawei is no longer able to use the Google-developed version of Android that comes with a number of Google’s own services and apps, including the Play Store, YouTube, Google Maps, Gmail, and more. Instead, Huawei has to rely on an open source version of the software, which lags behind in terms of functions and which the Google apps are missing.
Huawei was blocked from its relationship with Google (which helped Huawei to become the second largest smartphone maker in the world in 2019 with the aim of reaching the top spot) when President Donald J. Trump blacklisted the company for US trade – Prohibited all American companies from doing business with the company due to concerns about their ties to the Chinese government. The ban meant that Google, a US company based in California, could no longer provide Android updates or features for Huawei-branded devices.
After the lockdown, Huawei’s market share plummeted from 20 percent to 8.8 percent in just over a year after the ban came into effect.
Android makes up 85.4 percent of all smartphones shipped in 2019, while Apple’s iOS takes the remaining 14.6 percent, the latest IDC figures show. Huawei’s HarmonyOS, which is based on the open source version of Android, would still count as Android in these numbers.
This is similar to Amazon’s FireOS, which powers its own tablet version but uses Android under all the glitz.
According to Huawei, HarmonyOS is a more efficient operating system. What would require 100 lines of Android code can now be achieved in a single line of HarmonyOS code, the company proudly announced on the stage. This allows HarmonyOS to be incredibly efficient on underperforming devices like infotainment systems in the car that don’t have as much grunt as the latest flagship smartphone.
The introduction of HarmonyOS to smartphones will allow greater cohesion between its wide range of devices. It will allow more interaction between Huawei smartphones and Huawei smart TVs. For example, video calls answered on a smartphone could be swiped onto the smart TV to use the big screen. Phone calls can be routed to smart speakers, with the call following you as you wander around the house – and seamlessly jumping to the speaker or HarmonyOS device near you at any time.
“HarmonyOS is designed to provide the glue between a growing number of connected devices that Huawei is targeting,” commented Ben Wood, chief analyst at CCS Insight. “Huawei hopes it can follow Apple’s lead by having a single software platform that extends in all directions and provides a seamless experience for customers shopping into its ecosystem of products.”
Going forward, we expect HarmonyOS to be the default operating system that ships with the latest batch of Huawei smartphones and tablets.
For those who already have a Huawei phone in their pocket, from today only owners in China can download HarmonyOS. During today’s event, Huawei remained silent about the possibility of a worldwide introduction of the operating system. The Huawei Mate 40 and Huawei P40 series are already receiving the update in China. Huawei claims that both the speed and battery life will be improved when running HarmonyOS compared to its predecessor. However, we will have to wait for it to sink in the UK to test this for ourselves.