Chinese telecommunication giant Huawei announced major updates to its self-developed operating system HarmonyOS at a launch event Wednesday night. The proprietary system is now being used on phones for the first time, achieving an essential goal for the company. 

Why it matters: Huawei has long relied on the Android system, but it lost access to key services thanks to US sanctions in 2019. Huawei is aiming to build a new mobile ecosystem independent of Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. However, the company chose to focus on promoting the system’s versatility across smartwatches, tablets, and other device at the launch event. 

  • The new mobile system is unlikely to reverse plunging smartphone sales in overseas markets because the system is unlikely to support key Google applications such as YouTube and Gmail. 

Details: HarmonyOS is available on Huawei’s Mate 40 and Mate X2 smartphone models, as well as smartwatch Huawei Watch 3 and tablet MatePad Pro, the Shenzhen-based company announced Wednesday evening. 

  • Huawei phone users need to fill out an application to receive an update to HarmonyOS, a Huawei phone owner told TechNode. Most Huawei phones currently run on a Huawei-customized Android system called EMUI. 
  • The update process took about 10 minutes and all previously installed Android apps worked on HarmonyOS, said the user.
  • Huawei told TechNode that HarmonyOS is “by no means a copy of Android or iOS.”
  • “Huawei is not launching HarmonyOS to replace iOS or Android. The design logic is different, source codes are different, and use scenarios are different,” the company said in a statement to TechNode. 
  • When Huawei first unveiled the system in August 2019, it said HarmonyOS would be open-source, but the system has remained closed-source. A Huawei spokesperson told Technode on Thursday that the company participates in an open-source project named OpenHarmony and contributes to it.

Context: HarmonyOS was widely seen as an alternative to Google’s Android mobile operating system, but it has taken Huawei about a little less than two years to deliver the system to phones. Huawei first deployed the system on smart televisions in August 2019 and then on smartwatches in September 2020. 

  • Huawei said last month it expects more than 300 million devices (in Chinese) to run HarmonyOS by the end of the year. The company said it is talking to 200 global app developers to create apps for the platform.

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. He writes a monthly newsletter tracking...