China’s biggest technology company has opened the latest version of its Harmony operating system to developers around the world

Huawei’s proprietary OS is crucial to the future of its smartphone business amid rigid US trade sanctions

About eight years ago, in a villa facing a lake in Shenzhen, a small group of senior Huawei Technologies executives headed by founder Ren Zhengfei held a closed-door meeting that lasted for several days.

Their mission was to brainstorm ideas on how Huawei should respond to the rising success of Google’s Android smartphone operating system (OS) around the world – software that it used on its own handsets. The underlying concern was that dependence on Android could render the company vulnerable to a US ban in the future.

That future has finally come to pass. In the face of rigid trade sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, Huawei on Thursday announced that its proprietary Harmony OS would be installed on all of its smartphones from next year.

“The latest version of Harmony OS has been officially opened to developers globally,” said Richard Yu Chengdong, chief executive of Huawei’s consumer business group, at the company’s developer conference held in the southern city of Dongguan.

“The Huawei mobile service system now has 1.8 million app developers and 490 million active users, as well as 96,000 apps,” said Yu, adding that the company is accelerating the buildout of an app ecosystem around Harmony.

The Harmony Operating System initiative has been pushed forward after Huawei was added to the US Entity List in May last year. That barred Google from providing technical support for new Huawei smartphone models using Android, and from Google Mobile Services, the bundle of developer services upon which most Android apps are based.

Some analysts, however, are sceptical about the ability of Harmony to replace Android, particularly in overseas markets where many users take Google apps such as YouTube and Gmail for granted.

“Even if Huawei builds up more momentum with developers, they are swimming upstream trying to convince them to invest the time in migrating their apps over [from Android], especially for a relatively small installed base of users at the moment,” said Bryan Ma, vice-president of devices research at tech research firm IDC. “Moreover, Google itself is unlikely to make its first party apps available, which is the bigger problem.”

Huawei has said Harmony, a microkernel-based distributed OS, can be used in everything from smartphones to smart speakers, wearables and in-vehicle systems to create a shared ecosystem across devices.

The Harmony announcement came days after the Post reported that Huawei is trying to raise funds from its employees, as China’s biggest tech company struggles with the impact of US trade sanctions, citing three people familiar with the matter.

Huawei, also the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker and currently biggest smartphone vendor, adopted a new rule on profit dividends that allows its employees to buy virtual shares worth 25 per cent of their income from the past five years, the people said. A Huawei spokeswoman declined to comment on Monday.

The article is originally published at SCMP.