Chinese operating system Harmony OS is rumoured to replace Google on popular brands. PAT PILCHER is on the case.
Is Google about to lose control of the Android market? Could China and Huawei have finally found a way to beat the US trade ban? Will Huawei phones finally be able to run Google apps?
If the latest rumours around Huawei’s Harmony OS are true, a seismic shift in the smartphone market could already be underway. This shift could have enormous implications for both Google and the global smartphone market.
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Huawei’s in-house developed mobile OS is known in China as Hong Meng OS and Harmony OS in the west. A limited beta was launched in September last year after Huawei was placed on the Entity List and lost access to US technologies, including Google mobile services.
Harmony OS has a massive amount of hype around it. There are even claims that it’s the third-biggest mobile operating system after iOS and Android. We’re not sure how this could be the case, given it hasn’t launched out of its public beta programme yet, but there you go.
Launched or not, the latest gossip out of industry rumour mills is that Harmony OS is being taken up by other Chinese smartphone brands. These include Oppo, Vivo, Meizu, and Xiaomi, representing a sizeable chunk of the global Android smartphone market. Scuttlebutt also has it that even more Chinese Android phone players are waiting in the wings to announce they’re throwing their lot in with Harmony OS too.
The news isn’t terribly surprising. I’d previously written about how Chinese smartphone vendors and Huawei had formed an alliance, so seeing support emerge for a Chinese alternative to Android and Google makes a lot of sense.
Either way, the potential implications are huge. According to IT market researchers IDC, over 59% of all major Android smartphone brands are Chinese owned. The importance of this is thrown into sharp relief when market share is taken into consideration. IT Analyst firm counterpoint found that for the third quarter of 2020, a whopping 92% of the global smartphone market was made up of Chinese Android smartphone brands.
If enough Chinese brands do side with Harmony OS and dump Android, it’d be very bad news for Google indeed. They could find one of their most strategically valuable assets severely marginalised. A stampede to Harmony OS could leave just a handful of vendors (I count just two – Samsung and Google’s own Pixel brand) left using Android.
While Harmony OS is designed to run on platforms ranging from smart TVs to wearables, consumer support was likely to be hampered without multiple vendors backing it. With the news that the largest Chinese smartphone makers will support Harmony OS, it could become a significantly more attractive option for developers. This should (in theory) also translate into greater consumer appeal as the number of third-party Harmony OS-compatible apps grows and its ecosystem flourishes.
While Harmony OS has yet to launch beyond a public beta, indications are that it will play nice with apps designed for Android. Numerous beta testers have also reported that they’ve installed and used Google Mobile Services on Harmony OS, allowing them to run Google apps natively. If this continues to be the case with the retail release of Harmony OS, it could be the silver bullet that cures what has ailed Huawei’s smartphone sales since the US ban came into effect.
So far, the news around Harmony OS is still very much a speculative thing, and like so much of the US/Huawei ban, the devil is in the detail. Harmony OS on Oppo, Vivo, Meizu and Xiaomi smartphones is expected to initially be China-exclusive and unavailable in international markets. No date for when this is likely to change has been communicated. That said, Harmony OS betas became available in December. The final version of Harmony OS is said to be launching on Huawei’s latest flagship phone, the P50, which is due to launch in the second half of 2021. Earlier models such as the P40 Pro and even the GT Watch are expected to get upgrades to Harmony OS.
If these rumours do prove to be correct, hold onto your hat, the smartphone game could undergo some huge changes.