HarmonyOS phone tech is ready but lacks ecosystem: Huawei executive

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Kevin Ho, the president of Huawei’s mobile phone product line, at the TechCrunch Shenzhen 2019 on Nov. 12, 2019. (Image credit: TechCrunch)

The technology needed to run Huawei’s in-house mobile operating system, the HarmonyOS, on smartphones is ready, but the ecosystem is still lagging behind, said Kevin Ho, the president of Huawei’s handset product line, on Tuesday.

Speaking at TechCrunch Shenzhen 2019, Ho said that millions of applications are needed to perfect the mobile OS ecosystem, and this remains the toughest problem for Huawei to solve at present.

The OS, officially unveiled in August, is widely considered as an alternative to Google’s Android. Yu Chengdong, CEO for Huawei’s consumer business group, said at the launch that HarmonyOS would support a wide range of devices from personal computers to smartwatches, as well as virtual reality glasses, without mentioning any plans for installation on smartphones.

Huawei’s Hongmeng may not replace Android on smartphones after all

Ho reaffirmed that Huawei doesn’t have a plan to launch a smartphone running the HarmonyOS and that the company is still sticking to Android.

HarmonyOS is able to run on multiple internet of things (IoT) devices so developers need only to build one version of an app to deploy it through different platforms, he added.

“Currently we are working with developers around the world [to build the ecosystem],” said He, who called developers to build apps based on Huawei Mobile Services, the company’s alternative to the Google Mobile Services (GMS), the apps and services by Google that often come pre-installed on Android.

The GMS is currently unavailable on new Huawei phones due to the US export ban on the company which bars sales of components and technology from American companies to Huawei.

The company launched the Mate 30 series in September in Europe, marking its biggest smartphone market outside China. It sold without Google apps and services pre-installed, a move which experts believed would slash the appeal of the new models in the West.

Tiago Alves, vice president for Asia Pacific at Portugal-based Android app store Aptoide, told TechNode in an interview in June that no consumers in Europe would want a phone without Google services.

However, he said it would be possible for Huawei to build an ecosystem without Google, and the process should be a “joint effort,“ where those alternatives to Google apps and services such as the Google Play Store, YouTube, and Gmail are populated by many different developers.

If the Huawei OS can offer all of these Google services—something that will take a while to develop—then users will buy a phone that uses the system, said Alves.