Huawei risks drowning as HarmonyOS heads for open waters

Earlier in August, Huawei announced it was launching its own open-source operating system, named HarmonyOS, which may replace Google’s Android on its devices, writes Promon head of development, Jan Vidar Krey.

On the face of it this move makes sense, with there still being the possibility that the United States will ban Google from working directly with the Chinese company, resulting in it not being able to use Android.

Huawei continues to maintain its innocence in relation to security concerns, but HarmonyOS represents the company taking matters into its own hands. Despite the fact that this appears to be a backup plan, the company, which let’s not forget is the world’s number one telecom supplier and the number two phone manufacturer, says that this is in fact part of a much bigger plan to address the rise and demand of the Internet of Things (IoT), and increases functionality.

Huawei’s ambition is certainly commendable, but naturally where there is progression there is also risk. Huawei faces an uphill battle to appease both developers and end users, a task much easier said at a keynote, than actually done.

Developers face additional costs and testing efforts

Operating systems without apps are like homes without furniture, and so the big worry will be the reaction from developers, who will need to increase their investment and testing efforts for HarmonyOS.

New and existing apps can be adapted but this will depend on whether developers consider there to be enough incentive for them to do so. There is a historical parallel with Microsoft’s Windows Phone, which failed because developers generally ignored it, meaning users didn’t have the same access to apps available on iOS and Android. Huawei did, admittedly, sell 200 million phones last year, but the serious doubts surrounding the company’s future will definitely worry developers.

Compatibility conundrum

BlackBerry, Microsoft, and Amazon all found Android compatibility very difficult to achieve, and it will be no different for Huawei. BlackBerry tried to achieve compatibility, but the user experience result was terrible for users, while Amazon’s Android is a ‘different’ version which, just like with the Windows Phone, app developers ignore.

Huawei hopes that HarmonyOS will eventually have some Android compatibility. The key words here are ‘eventually’ and ‘some’, with Huawei claiming it will take three years before its operating system is fully integrated. Users, in the meantime, will lose access to some, if not all, of their favourite apps. The backlash from this will be fierce and will result in serious reputational damage. If there’s one technology company that could really do without more public scrutiny, it’s Huawei.

One area in which HarmonyOS has to be praised for is security, however. The operating system will have Trusted Execution Environment across devices, ensuring that data is secure and that root access is not allowed.

The jury is still out on the future of Huawei during a turbulent and defining time. The company finds itself between a rock and a hard place, with the threat of being barred from Android meaning it’s chosen to go down the route of developing its own operating system. The reality is that with HarmonyOS set to frustrate both developers and users, it may well prove to be the death of Huawei as a leading phone manufacturer.

This is a guest blog by Jan Vidar Krey, head of development at Norway-based mobile security company Promon. 

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