Rolling out a new operating system is pretty easy, especially for a big tech firm like Huawei. The tech giant employs more than 180,000 people and has the resources and the infrastructure to build software. But the big challenge is getting developers to build apps for a new system.
“Huawei understands this point,” said Kiranjeet Kaur, an analyst with research firm IDC. “Without apps, no one is going to buy [their phones].”
The company acknowledged that the success of Harmony “will depend on a dynamic ecosystem of apps and developers.”
“To encourage broader adoption, Huawei will release HarmonyOS as an open-source platform, worldwide,” Huawei said in a statement. “Huawei will also establish an open-source foundation and an open-source community to support more in-depth collaboration with developers.”
The omens aren’t great. Other major tech companies that have released open-source operating systems to compete with Android and iOS and have failed to attract enough people and developers.
A system with fewer users is less appealing, since there are fewer opportunities to make money.
“From the developers’ point of view, the ease of bringing their apps and services to the end users, and how quickly they can monetize their work, is very important,” said Jason Low, an analyst with research firm Canalys.
Even Samsung, which makes more smartphones than anyone else, has struggled to gain traction with its own operating system — Tizen.
Huawei has a pretty obvious reason for wanting to create its own operating system. The world’s No. 2 smartphone maker is at the mercy of the United States when it comes to which operating system it can offer to its millions of smartphone users.
Washington banned US companies from selling tech and software to Huawei back in May, throwing a wrench into the company’s partnership with Google.
Consumers who already owned Huawei smartphones were largely unaffected, Google said in May. But the blacklist limited Huawei to the public version of Android for new devices — thus cutting it off from Google apps and services, including Gmail and Google maps.
Huawei could do what Blackberry did and try to woo developers to make apps for Harmony by giving them a tool set. That means they’d only have to take a few more steps to make new apps or modify existing ones so that they work on Huawei’s platform, according to Kaur, the IDC analyst. But that’s also extra work for developers, and the experience of the app is not as smooth for the end user, she said.
Huawei had seen double digit growth in global markets recently, but without access to Google’s suite of services, its phones become a lot less attractive to international users.
“For consumers who have a choice between a phone that will work fine with Android, and something that may not work as smoothly, they’ll go with something that’s tried and tested,” said Kaur.
This is especially true for the pricy, high end smartphones, such as the Mate X, Huawei’s foldable device, which is set to launch next month.
“You’re spending $2,000 and if you can’t run YouTube … it’s quite a waste of money,” Kaur said.
No wonder Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s consumer business group, said last week that even though the company can sell Harmony smartphones “at any time,” it is still giving “priority” to Android.
For now, the new operating system will be deployed in Huawei’s smart watches, smart screens, smart speakers and other connected devices.