Huawei carries on with HarmonyOS as China seeks tech self-sufficiency

A Huawei smartphone installed with HarmonyOS is displayed at a Huawei store in Beijing in 2021.
PHOTO: Reuters

Sanctions-hit Huawei Technologies Co said on Monday (July 18) it would release this month an updated version of its self-developed operating system HarmonyOS, heeding Beijing's call to shake off China's reliance on foreign technologies.

HarmonyOS 3 will be released on July 27, according to Huawei's statement posted on the microblogging site Weibo. The company did not elaborate on the features of the new system.

Huawei declined to comment further on Monday.

The Shenzhen-based telecoms giant debuted HarmonyOS in August 2019, three months after Google stopped providing its suite of proprietary mobile software services to the company because of US trade sanctions.

The Chinese company has been banking on its in-house operating system, which is used on a variety of products in its ecosystem, to stay competitive. HarmonyOS 2, released in September 2020, been available for users to install on existing Huawei smartphones since last year.

By the end of last year, 220 million Huawei devices were equipped with HarmonyOS.

However, the Android alternative has failed to stem Huawei's losing tide. Without access to advanced chips based on US-origin technologies, the Chinese firm has quickly lost its relevance in the global smartphone market.

Huawei's sales last year shrank by nearly a third from 2020 to reach 636.8 billion yuan (S$132 billion), its worst annual sales performance on record. Huawei's consumer business, made up mostly of smartphone sales, was the worst-hit, with revenue plunging by half to 243.4 billion yuan.

Huawei's efforts to persuade third-party smartphone and gadget makers to adopt HarmonyOS have also been an uphill battle.

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Android remains the world's most popular mobile operating system, commanding a 72 per cent share of the global market as of July, according to data from StatCounter.

After Google stopped certifying Russian-branded Android smartphones following the country's invasion of Ukraine, Russian manufacturer BQ said in March it started to test the use of HarmonyOS on its handsets.

But Huawei said at the time it had no plans to launch HarmonyOS-equipped smartphones overseas.

Still, China is pushing ahead with developing home-grown operating systems to reduce its dependence on foreign personal computer operating systems, such as Microsoft Windows and Apple's MacOS.

Kylinsoft, a subsidiary of state-owned China Electronics Corp, last month joined forces with more than 10 Chinese entities, including the National Industrial Information Security Development Research Centre, to set up an open-source code community to work towards that aim.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.