President Biden has decided to maintain President Trump's blacklisting of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, cutting it off from key American suppliers and hamstringing its smartphone business, which was, for a brief time, the global leader in sales thanks to its leading position in China, by far the world's biggest market. Now, after developing its own proprietary operating system and initially deploying it on laptops and tablets, the company is preparing to launch a mobile version of Harmony OS for smartphones in a bid to take on Google and Apple.
Establishing a competitive alternative operating system to Apple's iOS and Google's Android has been attempted before: both Microsoft and Samsung have tried and failed. But since being cut off from using Android, along with most of the popular American social media apps (most of which are already banned in China), Huawei has no choice but to launch its own operating system if it wants to keep selling smartphones.
Huawei is hoping it might encourage South Korean giant Samsung or at the very least some of the other Chinese smartphone makers, like Xiaomi, to try its new operating system on some of their phones.
Google has held the No. 1 spot for most-used smartphone operating system virtually since Android was introduced. Before Huawei, other challengers have had limited success unseating Google. Years ago, Samsung launched a rival operating system called "Tizen," but it never gained any traction. Microsoft also tried selling a phone with a mobile version of Windows, but it also sold poorly.
According to WSJ, Huawei is targeting 200MM phones with Harmony installed by the end of the year - what many third-party analysts would describe as an extremely lofty, if not unrealistic, goal.
"It’s a giant leap," said Nicole Peng, an analyst at market-research firm Canalys. "There isn’t a successful case of an alternative operating system out there," she said. "It takes many, many years to be able to build up that ecosystem and get all the stakeholders to be able to agree on it and see the benefit of it."
For years now, Huawei has been pushing developers to build programs for the company’s app store, AppGallery. The company has already launched some apps to replace those whose access it lost. For example, a program called Petal Maps replaces Google Maps, while Petal Search replaces the phone’s Google search bar. Aside from Xiaomi, the other two major Chinese smartphone brands are Oppo and Vivo.
A handful of Chinese manufacturers are already running Harmony OS on smart appliances, including Midea, a home-appliance giant. The operating system is designed to pair with Huawei smartphones, though these devices are only found in China.
If anything, Huawei's long-shot embrace of its own operating system just shows how badly Trump's aggressive trade policies have hurt the Chinese telecom giant, which has been accused of facilitating spying by the Chinese government.