Google's decision to suspend Huawei's use of some parts of the Android operating system will send shockwaves through the smartphone market. Huawei is the second biggest smartphone maker but relies on the Android operating system, which is effectively run by Google, as the engine of its devices. Google will block Huawei's use of Android updates, apart from those made available in the open-source version of the operating system, according to Reuters.
In a statement Huawei said: "Huawei has made substantial contributions to the development and growth of Android around the world. As one of Android's key global partners, we have worked closely with their open-source platform to develop an ecosystem that has benefited both users and the industry.
"We will continue to build a safe and sustainable software ecosystem, in order to provide the best experience for all users globally," it said.
The relationship between the US and Chinese phone maker Huawei has officially boiled over. The tensions have been mounting for nearly a year a half, starting with carriers pulling out of deals to provide Huawei phones and escalating to full-blown trade bans and the unprecedented revocation of Huawei’s Android license. All the while, the US has sought the extradition of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei, on fraud charges.
The primary source of the controversy, however, is the long-held belief from lawmakers and the US intelligence community that Huawei acts on behalf of the Chinese government, undermining US national security and posing cyber security and privacy risks for American and UK customers. With Huawei cut out of Google’s official Android licensing program, the company’s future hangs in the balance, creating uncertainty about the future of Chinese businesses amid President Donald Trump’s trade war and raising serious questions about Huawei’s role in the Windows and 5G ecosystems going forward.
Huawei has officially announced HarmonyOS, the operating system it was rumored to be developing to replace its reliance on Android. In China, the software will be known as Hongmeng. The company says the operating system, a microkernel-based distributed OS, can be used in everything from smart phones to smart speakers, wearable’s, and in-vehicle systems to create a shared ecosystem across devices. The operating system will be released as an open-source platform worldwide to encourage adoption.
There’s been a lot of speculation about Huawei’s in-house operating system ever since Google suspended the company’s Android license back in May, following the US government’s decision to put Huawei on the Entity List. Huawei has made no secret of the fact that it’s been working on its own OS, but the extent to which it would be able to act as a substitute for Android is unclear.
Huawei plans to launch HarmonyOS on “smart screen products” later this year, before expanding it to work on other devices, like wearable’s, over the next three years. The first of these products will be the Honor Smart Screen, which is due to be unveiled on Saturday. Huawei has yet to explicitly say what constitutes a “smart screen” device, but Reuters previously reported that the OS would appear on a range of Honor smart TVs. The focus for the operating system will be products for the Chinese market at first, before Huawei expands it to other markets.
In a statement, the CEO of Huawei’s consumer business group, Richard Yu, says that HarmonyOS is “completely different from Android and iOS” because of its ability to scale across different kinds of devices. “You can develop your apps once, and then flexibly deploy them across a range of different devices,” the CEO says.
Previously, it’s been unclear whether HarmonyOS would be an operating system for smartphones or for Internet of Things devices. It now appears that it’s designed to power both, similar to Google’s experimental Fuchsia operating system, which is designed to run on various form-factors.
Although the OS will come to more devices over the next three years, in a follow-up press release, Huawei said that “for the time being” it intends to continue using Android on its phones. Whether it can continue to do so is another matter. CNBC reports that in a press conference following the launch, Yu said that the situation was “unclear” as to whether Huawei can still use Android, and that the company is “waiting on an update” to find out.