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Huawei's HarmonyOS faces uphill battle against Android, iOS

Analysts say Huawei's HarmonyOS for smartphones and tablets is unlikely to succeed against Android and iOS without easy access to popular apps or a global sales channel.

Huawei's new proprietary mobile operating system will struggle to gain share in the highly competitive smartphone and tablet market dominated by Google's Android and Apple's iOS, analysts said.

Last week, Huawei launched HarmonyOS for laptops and smartphones in response to U.S. sanctions that ended Huawei's ability to use Android in its devices. The 2019 sanctions cut off access to Android's new features and security updates. Huawei customers also couldn't download popular apps in the Google Play Store.

Analysts were skeptical that Huawei would succeed where Microsoft and Samsung failed. Both companies released mobile operating systems that couldn't take significant market share from Android or Apple's iOS for the iPhone and iPad.

"I'm going to bet that this will not be that successful," Gartner analyst Tuong Nguyen said of HarmonyOS.

HarmonyOS uses the same open source code base as Android, so it's possible to run Android apps on the Huawei OS. However, without easy access to the apps on popular outlets like the Google store, it's unlikely that people will make an effort to find apps elsewhere. Instead, they'll buy an Android phone, Nguyen said.

IDC analyst Ryan Reith said Huawei has never developed a customer base outside of China as loyal as Apple's and Samsung's. So when the sanctions hit, Huawei's customers moved on.

Since the sanctions, Huawei's worldwide sales have declined steeply. According to Gartner, Huawei's market share went from 15.6% in the first quarter of 2019 to 5.2% in the first quarter of 2021.

Also, Huawei lost its sales channel without Android. Reith said the company's partnerships with retailers including BestBuy and AT&T vanished once it no longer had Android devices to sell.

"The channels would not support another ecosystem that has no proof of success," Reith said.

Huawei's pitch to developers is the ability to run a HarmonyOS app on many devices. So a smartphone app would also run on a smartwatch, tablet or smart TV without significant modifications.

Huawei has aimed HarmonyOS at "the Internet of Everything, not just another smartphone operating system," said Tim Danks, Huawei's vice president of U.S. partner relations. The company first released HarmonyOS on IoT devices in 2019.

Along with the new operating system, Huawei launched a slew of products that use HarmonyOS, including new versions of the Mate 40 smartphone, the Mate X2 foldable smartphone, the Watch 3 smartwatch and the MatePad Pro tablet.

The company said it will upgrade about 100 other Huawei devices, including smartphones and tablets, to HarmonyOS soon.

Maxim Tamarov is a news writer covering mobile and end-user computing. He previously wrote for The Daily News in Jacksonville, N.C., and the Sun Transcript in Winthrop, Mass. He graduated from Northeastern University with a degree in journalism. He can be found on Twitter at @MaximTamarov.

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