Huawei announced its new Harmony operating system in Dongguan, China on Friday. Pocket-lint sat down with Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei's consumer business group which manages its smartphones division to talk about the new platform and how it might impact on the smartphone business going forward.
Firstly, Yu repeated the message that we've heard from others at Huawei about existing devices. Those phones already on sale that people have got will continue to work: "The phones which are currently on sale can continue to use Google," said Yu.
"That's why," Yu continued "we have HarmonyOS for backup, in case we can't use Google in the future. Then you can use HarmonyOS, which will have better performance."
Huawei seems keen to stress that HarmonyOS isn't a replacement, that it plans to continue to work with Android as far as it can.
We ask him about something he mentioned when we last met two years ago. He had said that getting to be the number one seller of smartphones (the company was then number three) was easy, but that that wasn't Huawei's aim.
Huawei is now number two, so where is the company heading now?
"We are heading for the best products, the best innovations, the best user experience. That's what we are looking for and you can see that if this trade war had not happened then this year we had a very big possibility to be number one."
"So, this year maybe our market share cannot be number one but we consolidate the top two position. For us the market share is not the most important. The innovation, the user experience, customer satisfaction are the most important."
It's that "trade war" between China and the US that has pulled Huawei into the spotlight and has seen a lot of attention on Huawei's alternative strategy if it can't use Google's Android. The announcement of HarmonyOS - and launch of the first device to run on the OS - comes at an important time.
But Huawei has, so far, avoided talking about HarmonyOS as a smartphone platform - and that's the question on everyone's lips.
Yu said that, if needed, the new HarmonyOS could be used on smartphones, the ones it would otherwise be making with Android on board, within a matter of days.
"It will be minor, minor work to transfer apps from the other ecosystems to HarmonyOS: transferring this ecosystem will be very easy to do."
So, how will it look? Actually, this is a simple question to answer. After all, Huawei skins its Android phones with its increasingly elegant EMUI interface. We've seen the new version, EMUI 10, due to be released on 8 September this year. It looks great, with an elegant sense of colour and layout and a dazzling new dark mode.
Huawei's Dr Wang Chenglu, president of software for Huawei's consumer devices, has confirmed to us that the user experience will be consistent and look the same whether the phone is running on Android or Harmony, thanks to EMUI. So, from the point of view of its appearance, there will be no difference, whichever operating system is underneath.
There may be question marks hanging over some apps however. While it's straightforward to port across apps like Facebook and Instagram, ones like Google Maps, YouTube and Gmail that use the Google frameworks will be more difficult, perhaps impossible. Yu is philosophical, saying that perhaps in the event of Huawei not being able to use Google's apps via Android that it would be in Google's interest to make those services compatible.
And just how ready is HarmonyOS? "To be honest," Richard Yu says, "we have made the HarmonyOS ready: we can do it already. So, why haven't we launched it? Because we still want to support the Google Android ecosystem. So in case we cannot use Android next year, then we will have to use Harmony. Our backup plan is always ready. But we want to continue to support our partners, our US partners like Google."
Huawei is also putting plenty of resources into Harmony. "We currently have over 4,000 engineers working on our own OS, and more importantly they are the best engineers, and we will continue to work on this system as a backup."
Dr Wang also admitted that the ban from the US would be difficult if it continued: "It's pointless to be worried. If Google will not let us use Android there is nothing we can do. If we cannot work with Google we will have a painful time - perhaps a period of one to two years - but then we will be able to bring quality services to our customers."
The next phone the company will release is the Huawei Mate 30 Pro. It has not yet been approved so it could fall victim to the US ban. It's due within a couple of months, with a rumoured launch date of 19 September. Could it run on HarmonyOS if necessary?
"To be honest, we are thinking about that. If we can use Android, we will. But if we cannot then we are thinking about using Harmony OS," says Dr Wang.
So, will it be ready in time?
"Yes, for sure, we will be ready."
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