Huawei’s HarmonyOS could cause market discord

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Huawei launched its own OS following its blacklisting by the US government.
Huawei launched its own OS following its blacklisting by the US government.

The newly-launched Huawei operating system (OS) will shake up the market.

This is according to analysts, after Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei last week unveiled HarmonyOS, which it dubs a new microkernel-based, distributed OS designed to deliver a cohesive user experience across all devices and scenarios.

The new OS is an alternative to Google’s Android, which Huawei currently uses on its devices.

According to Reuters, Huawei said that for now it would stick to using Google’s Android for smartphones, and the new software will be gradually rolled out to support devices such as smartwatches, speakers and virtual reality gadgets.

Huawei launched its own OS following the blacklisting of the company by the US government, which resulted in companies, including Alphabet’s Google and British chip designer ARM, limit or cease their relationships with the Chinese company.

Google is still banned from doing business with Huawei, although some exemptions are allowed but must be applied for.

Google’s parent Alphabet announced it would suspend any business that “requires the transfer of hardware, software and technical services except those publicly available via open source licensing”.

It also means Huawei technology would no longer receive software updates, be upgraded to new versions of Android, or have access to the Google Play Store and services. This would lock Huawei devices out of the app store and mean popular services like Google Maps, Music, YouTube and Assistant will not work.

The Google ban would mean future Huawei phones and tablets would no longer have an Android licence.

Analyst firm IDC notes that in 2019, Android’s market share will increase slightly to 86.7% from 85.1% in 2018, mostly due to launches of several new models, including a handful of 5G devices announced or coming to market in 2H19.

On iOS, IDC says 2019 is expected to be another challenging year for new iPhone shipments, with volumes expected to drop to 183.5 million, down 12.1% year-over-year.

Dr Charley Lewis, independent analyst and researcher.
Dr Charley Lewis, independent analyst and researcher.

Supporting all scenarios

Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s Consumer Business Group, explained the company’s thoughts behind developing this new OS: “We’re entering a day and age where people expect a holistic intelligent experience across all devices and scenarios. To support this, we felt it was important to have an operating system with improved cross-platform capabilities.

“We needed an OS that supports all scenarios, that can be used across a broad range of devices and platforms, and that can meet consumer demand for low latency and strong security.

“HarmonyOS is completely different from Android and iOS. It is a microkernel-based, distributed OS that delivers a smooth experience across all scenarios.

“It has trustworthy and secure architecture, and it supports seamless collaboration across devices. You can develop your apps once, then flexibly deploy them across a range of different devices.”

In a statement, Huawei says traditionally, new operating systems are released alongside new types of devices.

As early as 10 years ago, Huawei envisioned a future where intelligence would seamlessly integrate with all aspects of our lives, and it began exploring how it might deliver this experience – one that would transcend the boundaries of physical space and span different hardware and platforms, the company says.

It explains that HarmonyOS is a lightweight, compact OS with powerful functionality, and it will first be used for smart devices like smartwatches, smart screens, in-vehicle systems and smart speakers.

Through this implementation, Huawei says it aims to establish an integrated and shared ecosystem across devices, create a secure and reliable runtime environment, and deliver a holistic intelligent experience across every interaction with every device.

Herman Singh, founder and CEO of Future Advisory.
Herman Singh, founder and CEO of Future Advisory.

Substantial inroads

Commenting on the new OS, Dr Charley Lewis, independent analyst and researcher, says: “I don’t foresee any prospect of HarmonyOS driving other smartphone operating systems out of the marketplace in the immediate future – either Android or iOS (with market shares of 76% and 22% respectively).”

However, he notes the advent of HarmonyOS may cause a substantial market shake-up.

“Indeed, the anti-trust attention of regulators on the likes of Google and Facebook suggests that pressure for a more competitive operating system market may well be in the medium-term offing.

“Should Huawei opt to make HarmonyOS the operating system on its smartphones, it will make immediate and substantial inroads into Android’s market share, given the size of Huawei’s domestic market in China, along with its substantial presence in other markets.”

The quality and robustness of HarmonyOS remains to be seen, says Lewis. “Should it exhibit bugs or flaws or cyber security vulnerabilities, it will struggle get off the ground. In any event, it appears that a commercial launch is some way off – Huawei itself suggests 2021 – allowing for the development of a substantial, quality product. However, we still await the proof of the pudding.”

Lewis believes that key to the market uptake of HarmonyOS will be the development of a suite of apps able to run on the new OS, along with the equivalent of a Play Store through which it can reach a consumer market.

“It is indeed ironic that Trump’s trade war protectionism and attack on Huawei may backfire by shaking up the operating system market, destroying the dominance that Android has enjoyed there for a number of years,” says Lewis.

Huge opportunity

Herman Singh, founder and CEO of Future Advisory, notes Huawei would have never rolled out its own OS had the Trump administration not brought sanctions against the company.

“Huawei will use this opportunity to carve its own destiny now that they are not solely dependent on Google’s Android,” says Singh.

“I also think that Huawei’s HarmonyOS will improve on Android. Remember everyone thinks Android is the best operating system in the world, but the fact is the most robust and safest operating system is Apple iOS. The reason for this is Apple has a phenomenal quality control of the App Store as well as tight control of malware.”

He points out that the problem with Google’s Android OS is that it is highly fragmented.

“Google struggles in keeping its operating system safe. So Huawei will use the opportunity to fix a number of problems that are found in Android to come up with a solid operating system that is updated regularly – exactly what Apple is doing. With this launch, Huawei is adopting a strategy that is similar to Apple’s.”

Singh believes in the long run, this move will result in Huawei taking market share from Samsung as the biggest smartphone maker because it now owns its own operating system and Samsung doesn’t.

“The Huawei operating system will require less processing power on the handset than the Android operating system does. This will dramatically lower the cost of the chips that are needed for the Huawei handset and this will give them a huge advantage in the smartphone market,” he concludes.

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