Chinese smartphone maker Huawei announced Thursday that Harmony OS, its in-house replacement for Android, is coming to smartphones. The mobile operating system will be available to developers in December, company officials said, with consumers to see it next year.

Why it matters: This is the first time the embattled Chinese company confirmed that its HarmonyOS, known in Chinese as HongmengOS, will run on mobile devices. The new OS is a sign that Huawei is inching towards independence from American technology for its smartphone ecosystem.

  • The company first announced the operating system in August 2019 after new Huawei devices lost access to Google services on the official version of Android as a result of a May 2019 US ban.
  • HarmonyOS, widely regarded as an alternative to Google’s Android mobile operating system, already runs on a series of Huawei devices such as smart television sets and smartwatches.
  • The company previously did not confirm that the system would be deployed to smartphones. Analysts told TechNode that this was to avoid “harming its relationship with Google.” Most current Huawei handsets still use the Android operating system.

Details: Richard Yu, head of Huawei’s consumer business group, said in an event Thursday afternoon that HarmonyOS will come to smartphones early next year, as he announced the 2.0 version of the operating system. Developers will get early access in December.

  • Yu, citing market data, said that the company became the world’s largest smartphone vendor in the second quarter. “But a shortage of components has affected our growth in recent months,” he said. 
  • Yu had previously said Huawei would stop making the Kirin chipsets used in high-end smartphones starting from September, citing US pressure on the company’s suppliers.
  • Yu also said that a Hongmeng app ecosystem is developing. A Huawei executive said in November smartphones running the HarmonyOS was ready in technology, but the app ecosystem was “lagging behind.”
  • The HarmonyOS ecosystem has around 1.8 million developers and some 95,000 apps, said Yu. He added that developers can easily convert an existing app for other devices to a smartphone app on the HarmonyOS.
  • Yu also announced that the operating system will be open-sourced on Gitee.com, a Chinese homegrown alternative to American source code management platform Github, on Thursday. In July, the Chinese government chose (in Chinese) Gitee.com to build a Chinese “independent open-source code hosting platform.”

Context: Huawei sold 55.8 million smartphones in the second quarter and, for the first time, reached the top spot in global smartphone vendor ranking, according to market data provider IDC. But the US-China trade war has threatened the company’s access to critical inputs for its smartphones.

  • On Aug. 18, the US Commerce Department added 38 Huawei subsidiaries into the so-called “Entity List” and imposed license requirements on any transactions involving items subject to US export controls, meaning that Huawei can’t purchase commercially available chips it needs from third-party vendors.
  • The bans will tighten next week, when major chipmakers plan to end shipments to Huawei on Sept. 15.

Correction: An earlier version of this story wrote that HarmonyOS will be “deployed” to smartphones in December. In fact, it will be made available to developers in December, according to the company’s announcement, and consumers will get phones with the new operating system next year.

Wei Sheng

Wei Sheng is a Beijing-based reporter covering hardware, smartphone, and telecommunications, along with regulations and policies related to the China tech scene. Before joining TechNode, he wrote about...