Huawei Revs Up Android Substitute as U.S. Curbs Hit Phone Sales

(Bloomberg) — Huawei Technologies Co. introduced a more polished and expansive iteration of its HarmonyOS, the operating system it’s developing to replace Android and help China’s largest technology company navigate increasingly strict U.S. sanctions. It also announced plans to offer the software for other phone makers to put on their devices.

Speaking at the Huawei Developer Conference in Dongguan, consumer group chief Richard Yu said that Huawei will have beta versions of HarmonyOS 2.0 available for smart TVs, watches and car infotainment systems from today, to be followed by smartphones in December.

Huawei’s pitch to developers revolved around the open, secure and distributed nature of the latest OS, making it easy to deploy across devices and screen sizes. The first handsets to support it can be expected next year, Yu added. In a world increasingly split along U.S.-China trade lines, Huawei presented HarmonyOS as a potential go-to operating system for its home market.

The world’s biggest smartphone maker admitted that U.S. curbs on its chip supply have impacted smartphone shipments, which were 105 million units in the first half of 2020 after reaching 240 million in 2019, according to company data. Still, Yu focused on expanding the Huawei Mobile Services ecosystem, which now counts 1.8 million developers and 490 million active users. It now supports roughly 96,000 apps and is the third-largest mobile ecosystem after Apple Inc.’s iOS and Google’s Android, according to Yu.

Read more: Deepening Huawei Curbs Send Asian Chipmakers Plunging

The embattled Chinese company has been fighting for its survival after the Trump administration imposed a series of sanctions that cut Huawei off from its clients and suppliers. Huawei had to use its stockpiles of components to make products from base stations to smartphones. After Sept. 15, it will lose almost all access to partners like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., which has been making Huawei’s Kirin processors. Kirin chips have in the past competed strongly against Qualcomm Inc.’s Snapdragon silicon and Huawei has invested heavily in developing its 5G wireless solutions.

Without the ability to produce or source components for its own smartphones, the company’s mobile business looks in jeopardy, though that isn’t preventing it from actively developing and expanding HarmonyOS as a long-term alternative to the dominant duo of American mobile platforms.

(Updates with number of apps in the fifth paragraph)

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