Struggling Huawei steps up software drive with HarmonyOS 2.0 for Internet-of-Things era

·4-min read

Telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies Co plans to expand the reach of its HarmonyOS mobile platform in the Internet-of-Things (IoT) market, where its self-developed operating system could be used in more devices than Google’s Android.

At the online launch of HarmonyOS 2.0 on Wednesday evening, Huawei announced partnerships with several domestic and international firms to run its mobile operating system on their smart devices, including Chinese home appliances giant Midea Group, drone maker SZ DJI Technology Co and Swiss watch producer Tissot.

HarmonyOS 2.0 differentiates itself from Android and Apple’s iOS because it was designed to work on a wide range of IoT devices as well as smartphones, according to Wang Chenglu, president of Huawei consumer business group’s software unit. These devices include smartwatches, smart televisions, smart home appliances and other sensor-equipped gadgets that are connected to the internet and interact with mobile applications.

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“Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android were developed about a dozen years ago, when the mobile internet started expanding and smartphones served as the main device,” Wang said in a group interview in Shenzhen on Tuesday. “While the smartphone market is becoming saturated, there is big growth potential in the IoT market.”

A screen capture from a Huawei Technologies Co video showing the user interface of its HarmonyOS 2.0 mobile platform. Photo: Handout
A screen capture from a Huawei Technologies Co video showing the user interface of its HarmonyOS 2.0 mobile platform. Photo: Handout

The stakes are high for Huawei and other major technology companies in the Asia-Pacific, as regional spending on IoT is expected to reach US$288.6 billion this year, according to research firm IDC.

Huawei, which initially introduced its HarmonyOS in 2019, expects app developers to benefit from the lower costs associated with its use.

“It costs half a million yuan to develop an app and it may cost another 100,000 yuan to operate it [on a different platform],” Wang said. “But if you use Harmony, it may only cost 10,000 yuan a year.”

Huawei does not charge any fees for use of HarmonyOS 2.0. Last year, the company opened the mobile operating system to developers around the world.

HarmonyOS 2.0, known as Hongmeng in Chinese, is expected to run on up to 300 million smart devices by the end of this year, including 200 million Huawei smartphones and 100 million third-party devices, according to Wang.

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Huawei’s addition to the US Entity List in May 2019 barred Google from providing technical support for new Huawei smartphone models using Android and Google Mobile Services, the bundle of developer services upon which most Android apps are based.

HarmonyOS may become an important community in China “where there aren’t any Google Mobile Services anyway and there is a reasonably large population that will buy anything deemed to be ‘made in China’ or supporting China”, said Stewart Randall, head of electronics and embedded software at consultancy Intralink.

Shenzhen-based Huawei, the world’s largest telecoms equipment maker and formerly China’s biggest smartphone vendor, has made heavy investments in the development of HarmonyOS in a bid to shield its handset business from trade restrictions as well as to compete against other major Chinese Android smartphone vendors.

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“We have multiple millions of smartphone users, and [HarmonyOS 2.0] is an important foundation for us to develop an ecosystem at an early stage,” Wang said.

He also reiterated that HarmonyOS is fully developed by Huawei with available resources. “We are currently not allowed to work with Android, but the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) is open source,” he said. In addition, he indicated that many people confuse Android and AOSP, which is why controversy has surrounded Huawei since announcing the development of HarmonyOS.

Additional reporting by Che Pan.

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