FILE – A man uses his smartphone outside of a shop selling Huawei products at a shopping mall in Beijing, May 29, 2019.
Huawei has finally unveiled its own operating system, a move that could help shield the smartphone maker from the escalating US-China trade war.
The reveal of Harmony OS comes months after the Chinese tech company was placed on a US trade blacklist that barred American firms from selling tech and software to Huawei unless they get a license to do so. That ban has prevented companies like Google from supplying new Huawei devices with its version of Android OS.
Harmony, which is called “Hongmeng” in Chinese, “is completely different from Android and iOS,” Apple’s (AAPL) operating system, said Richard Yu, the CEO of Huawei’s consumer business group. He announced the software Friday at a developer conference in Dongguan, China.
Yu said that Huawei can start using Harmony in smartphones “at any time,” but he said that the company is giving “priority” to Android right now.
“We will switch to [the] Harmony system when we can’t use Android,” he said, adding that it is “not that difficult” to migrate from Android to Huawei’s own system.
Harmony will be deployed first in Huawei’s smart watches, smart screens, smart speakers and other devices, including “in-vehicle systems.” Devices that use Harmony will be integrated with each other.
The company also said that the operating system will be open sourced.
Huawei is the world’s second largest smartphone seller behind Samsung and it has relied on a suite of Google services for its devices, including the Android system and the Google Play app store. But the US ban has thrown a wrench into that partnership since it was implemented in May.
Consumers who already owned Huawei smartphones were largely unaffected, Google said in May. But the blacklist limited Huawei to the public version of Android for new devices — thus cutting it off from Google apps and services, including Gmail and Google maps.
Sales of Huawei’s smartphones have suffered in international markets as a result, but have held up well in China where most of Google’s popular products are banned anyway and Huawei has been offering alternatives. The company said Friday that it will “lay the foundations” for Harmony in China, and then “expand it further to the global ecosystem.”
American tech companies had hoped to soon resume sales to Huawei. But that might not be happening soon: Bloomberg reported earlier Friday that the White House plans to delay a decision on granting licenses that would allow US companies to keep selling to Huawei, citing people familiar with the matter.
The United States claims that Huawei is a national security concern. Huawei denies that is the case, and says that none of its products pose a national security risk.