Huawei and Harmony – Future or Fallout?

Since its well publicised fallout with Google (and Donald Trump!) lead to a ban from using the app store on its devices, Huawei has announced the development of its own long-rumoured proprietary Operating System, Harmony, in an attempt to reduce its reliance on the US based behemoth.

This means Huawei will likely be competing with iOS and Android but what does this mean for app development?

Huawei will undoubtedly have some hurdles to overcome if it is to be successful. First of all, since losing its partnership with Google its lost access to GApps and the Google Play store on its devices (despite continuing to use the Android framework). This issue will only become more prominent as Huawei splits further from the Google ecosystem as it will need to reach critical mass on its own app store and promote Harmony-native development.

Apps will be a huge problem in general for HarmonyOS as both Apple and Android have reached virtual parity in terms of apps offered and most developers cater for both ecosystems while maintaining a high level of quality across both platforms. In order to quickly fill its new App Gallery, Huawei will likely need to keep barriers to entry low; including its quality control. Historically, Android has been criticised for not offering the same quality of apps as iOS and Harmony will most likely experience the same sort of criticism.

Another challenge Huawei will need to overcome is convincing the development community that the App Gallery is worth the investment and development time alongside Apple and Android. If it does wish to gain a foothold in the Western market, this will be key, but it could be  extremely difficult to achieve. Huawei looks to be working to encourage this outside China’s development community but until it reaches critical mass in terms of users, we imagine most development focused businesses won’t be tempted unless they’re looking to access a niche market.

Huawei will need to lean on its current market share of devices, 2nd only to Korean giant Samsung, to help promote the OS. The announcement that Android services and security will be continued for current products means anything from the recent Huawei P30 range release, the upcoming Huawei Mate 20 X 5G, and previous devices won’t be affected for the time being. However, Huawei is making it clear that it will be able to pivot from Android to Harmony in as little as 5 days should market conditions demand it. 

In terms of development, Harmony OS is expected to support some of the most popular coding languages natively; including C/, C++, Java, JavaScript and Kotlin. CEO Richard Yu also claims the Operating System will be able to run Android applications natively (not a huge surprise given its support of Java) but how well this will work on an app by app basis remains to be seen.

So do Harmony and Huawei have a future?

The ban looks likely to be ending in the next few days and Huawei is still working in Western markets but will Harmony OS take off? We doubt it. Both Europe and the US are dominated by Apple and Google and claiming a significant chunk of that market will be extremely difficult. 

It’s not hard to think of the other mobile operating systems that have now fallen by the wayside over the past few years from companies consumers associate with quality tech products. Even Microsoft, with its dominance of the home PC market, was unable to convince users that Windows Mobile or Windows 10 were worthwhile additions to the market and have recently announced they will be using Android for their next generation of devices.

If even Microsoft can’t break into this space then HarmonyOS will have to be pretty special to succeed. Richard Yu claims that the new OS will run ‘faster and safer’ than Android but given Huawei’s inevitable links with the Chinese government, will Western users feel safe providing their data in the same way they do to the Californian incumbents?

It’s certainly reasonable to foresee Huawei dominating the Chinese market and this will certainly impact some businesses in terms of development. For now though we don’t think there will be any real change in how businesses should be developing apps here in the West. While that may change when Huawei make their long-awaited move, it’s likely only businesses with a strong presence in China will need to adapt.