In the coming months, Huawei plans to update numerous Android smartphones and tablets to its own HarmonyOS. The Chinese tech company said in an online presentation where it presented the new version of its operating system. So far, the move has only been announced for China.
HarmonyOS is Huawei’s own operating system that is intended for smartphones and tablets, but also for televisions, smartwatches and smart home devices. It is based on the Android Open Source Project. Code analysis by the tech magazine Ars Technica have shown that HarmonyOS is basically a fork of the operating system developed by Google: The differences between the two OS versions are therefore minor at best.
First, Huawei is converting its flagship devices in China to HarmonyOS: users in China can already use the Huawei operating system on the P40 and Mate 40 devices, and HarmonyOS has already received the MatePad Pro. In the coming months, more devices are to be changed, and the process is expected to continue until 2022.
Exchange probably only in China
So far, the replacement of the operating system has not been announced for markets outside of China. There would be a problem there: Some of the devices that Huawei is now updating to HarmonyOS in China, for example, still run with a fully licensed Android in Germany. These are mainly smartphones that came on the market before the Google lockdown in May 2019. Even after the Android exclusion, Huawei was able to bring a few models onto the market that, due to minimal hardware changes, could continue to use a licensed Android version compared to previous phones.
HarmonyOS, on the other hand, is based on the license-free open source version of Android. They lack access to Google services and apps such as the Play Store, Gmail or Google Maps. Because such devices are hardly competitive in the West, Huawei has largely refrained from offering unlicensed Android phones in Germany, Europe and the USA. An update to HarmonyOS for older smartphones with full Android would probably mean that they too can no longer use Google services. It is unclear whether Huawei plans to take this step. Compared to heise online, a spokesman only said that the switch was initially limited to devices with Chinese firmware.
Huawei’s HarmonyOS behaves largely like Android, but the company has developed some additional features. Huawei pays particular attention to functions that more closely link different device types in the HarmonyOS ecosystem. For example, it should be possible to access the apps via mobile phone that were previously opened on the tablet. According to Huawei, HarmonyOS has been in development since 2016 and was first used on televisions. Version 2.0, which has now been presented, can also run on smartphones for the first time.
Huawei was placed on an embargo list by the US in May 2019, prohibiting US companies and companies that work with US technology from doing business with Huawei. The US justifies this step with suspicion of espionage against Huawei, for which there is no public evidence.
As a result of the lock, Huawei lost Google’s Android license and access to components from numerous manufacturers. The production of Huawei’s own Kirin chips was so restricted that the company now has to rely on Qualcomm chips for its first devices – the US manufacturer is allowed to deliver to Huawei due to a special license.
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