Huawei on Friday unveiled its long-awaited self-developed operating system HarmonyOS on its smart television product, but it may not be an Android alternative as previously rumored.

Why it matters: HarmonyOS, also known as Hongmeng OS, was deemed to be Huawei’s alternative to Google’s Android after the Chinese firm was cut off from US technology. The debut of the operating system was on Huawei’s TV set, but it is not yet available on smartphones.

  • The current version of the operating system, or the HarmonyOS 1.0, runs on the company’s TV product, which was released last month.
  • The future HarmonyOS will support a wide range of devices from personal computers to smartwatches, as well as virtual reality glasses, said Yu Chengdong, CEO of Huawei’s consumer business group, at the Huawei Developer Conference in Dongguan on Friday, without mentioning any plan to install it on smartphones.

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

— Yu Chengdong, at the Huawei Developer Conference on Friday

Details: Huawei said HarmonyOS will be open source and the firm will establish an open-source foundation and community to support developers.

  • HarmonyOS is ready to run on phones, but “for the consideration of partnerships and the ecosystem,” Huawei won’t be using it on handsets just yet, said Yu, adding that migrating from Android to HarmonyOS would only take a few days.

  • The current version of HarmonyOS is based on open-sourced frameworks and some self-developed modules, but future versions will be entirely developed in-house, said Yu.

  • Huawei said in a statement that it will lay the foundation for operating systems in the Chinese market, and then expand overseas.

Context: The mysterious operating system has been at the center of rumors regarding Huawei’s so-called ‘plan B’ against US sanctions. The company’s executives have given inconsistent statements about the OS in recent months.

  • In a March interview with Die Welt, Yu said Huawei had prepared the operating system as an alternative to Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows.
  • Huawei communications VP Andrew Williamson told Reuters in June that the company was in the process of potentially launching an Android replacement, adding that it would be ready “in months.“
  • Then in July, chairman Liang Hua said the operating system was developed primarily for the internet of things (IoT) devices instead of smartphones, and the company was still using Android as a “first choice.”
  • In a late-July news conference, Liang reaffirmed Hongmeng OS was not developed for smartphones, and the company still preferred to continue to use Google’s Android OS for future phones.
  • When asked by a reporter about the inconsistent statements, Liang explained that the operating system was part of the company’s long-term strategy, and it could be used on smartphones. “We are definitely not bluffing,” he said.

Writing about semiconductors and telecommunications.

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