Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more
Honor released its latest flagship smartphone line, the Honor 50, on June 16, 2021, across mainland China. These devices continue to run Google’s Android operating system. Photo: Handout

Huawei’s former budget smartphone unit Honor still on the fence about adopting HarmonyOS, favours Android operating system on its devices

  • Honor has launched its new flagship 5G smartphones, the Honor 50 series, which run on Google’s Android mobile operating system
  • The former budget smartphone unit of Huawei intends to keep an eye on the development of the HarmonyOS ecosystem
Honor, previously the budget smartphone brand of Huawei Technologies Co, said it will continue to use Google’s Android operating system after launching the firm’s latest 5G devices, dealing a fresh blow to its former parent’s plans to widen adoption of its HarmonyOS mobile platform in China.
George Zhao Ming, chief executive at Honor, confirmed the company’s direction in an interview with Chinese digital media outlet Jiemian, following the launch on Wednesday of its new flagship 5G Honor 50 series. This line includes the Qualcomm-powered Honor 50 Pro and Honor 50, as well as a more affordable Mediatek-powered Honor 50 SE.

While Honor will keep an eye on future developments of the HarmonyOS ecosystem, the company’s choice of mobile operating system reflects the preference of consumers around the world, according to Zhao.

This revelation comes weeks after Huawei introduced its HarmonyOS 2, an updated version of its self-developed mobile operating system that has drawn thousands of partners and delivered a stiff reality check – none of the company’s major Chinese Android smartphone competitors were on board.
Shoppers try out products running the HarmonyOS mobile platform at a Huawei Technologies Co store in Shanghai on June 3, 2021. Photo: Agence France-Presse
Huawei, which was  put on the US blacklist in May 2019, has made heavy investments in the development of HarmonyOS in a bid to shield its smartphone business from trade restrictions as well as to compete against other major Chinese smartphone vendors.
The Shenzhen-based company, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker and  formerly China’s biggest smartphone vendor, has been one of the major casualties of rising US-China tensions. It is now struggling with  tighter restrictions imposed last year, covering access to chips developed or produced using US technology, from anywhere.
HarmonyOS 2 differentiates itself from Android and  Apple’s iOS because it was designed to work on a wide range of Internet-of-Things devices as well as smartphones. These devices include smartwatches, smart televisions, smart home appliances and other sensor-equipped gadgets that are connected to the internet and interact with mobile applications.
Huawei, which initially  introduced its HarmonyOS in 2019, expects app developers to benefit from the lower costs associated with its use. The firm does not charge any fees to use HarmonyOS 2. It has targeted up to 300 million devices running HarmonyOS 2 this year.
At HarmonyOS 2’s launch on June 3, Richard Yu Chengdong, the chief executive of Huawei’s consumer business group, said the company has partnered with more than 1,000 hardware makers, 500,000 app developers and more than 300 service providers, enabling the company’s mobile operating system to run on more smart devices than those on Android.

The stakes are high for Honor to further expand its Android smartphone operations because it is no longer constrained by the trade sanctions that have hammered Huawei’s business.

“Our core mission this year is to make flagship phones that can compete with Apple and Huawei in China,” Zhao said in an interview in January at Honor’s new office, located just 15 kilometres (9 miles) from Huawei’s Shenzhen headquarters. Honor currently has about 8,000 employees. 

“No matter who the competitors are, we have a target to surpass them, including Huawei,” Zhao said.

Founded in 2013, Honor was the unsung hero that helped Huawei overtake Apple and Samsung in sales at home and abroad by offering trendy smartphones to young consumers at prices averaging between US$150 to US$220. By 2020, the brand had more than 200 million users worldwide. 
Honor chief executive George Zhao Ming. Photo: Handout

In the aftermath of the US sanctions, Huawei decided to sell Honor in November last year to a consortium of more than 30 dealers and agents of the brand. There is no full accounting of the members of this consortium, but it includes appliance and electronics retailer Suning and several state-owned investment firms in Shenzhen, according to Huawei. Estimates of the value of the sale range from US$15 billion, as reported by Reuters, up to US$40 billion, a figure reported by Chinese media Huxiu.

At the time of that sale, Huawei founder and chief executive Ren Zhengfei said he hoped Honor would become Huawei’s strongest global competitor and even surpass it in the future.

“Be the strongest competitor of Huawei in the world, surpass Huawei, and even use defeating Huawei as your motivation,” Ren said at a farewell party for Honor, according to a transcript released on Huawei’s official employee community platform, in November.