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Huawei HarmonyOS Google Android rival to roll out to phones in April

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GUANGZHOU, China — In mid-2019, Huawei launched its own operating system — HarmonyOS — in response to U.S. actions that cut it off from Google software.

It was the Chinese technology giant’s most ambitious mobile software push, one it hoped would help its handset business to survive.

On Monday, Huawei announced that HarmonyOS would begin rolling out on its smartphones from April. Huawei phone users would be able to download it as an update.

A spokesperson confirmed to CNBC that users outside of China would also be able to download it. The company’s new foldable Mate X2 device, launched on Monday, would be one of the first to get HarmonyOS with other handsets to follow.

In 2019, Huawei was put on a U.S. blacklist known as the Entity List which restricted American firms from exporting technology to the Chinese company. Google cut ties with Huawei as a result. That meant Huawei could not use licensed Google Android on its smartphones. That’s not a big deal in China where Google apps such as Gmail are blocked. But in overseas markets, where Android is the most popular operating system, it was a big blow.

That move by the Trump administration combined with sanctions designed to cut Huawei off from critical chip supplies, has hurt the Chinese telecommunication firm’s smartphone sales.

Huawei will need to find a source of chip supplies for its smartphones. But HarmonyOS is the other “critically important” part to ensure the survival of Huawei’s smartphone business, according to Nicole Peng, analyst at Canalys.

Development of HarmonyOS

Huawei touts HarmonyOS as an operating system that can work across devices from smartphones to TVs. In September, it launched the second version of HarmonyOS and has been courting developers to make apps for the platform.

And with a view to international users, Huawei redesigned the interface for its app store known as the AppGallery and improved navigation functions.

A guest holds her phone showing a picture taken during Huawei’s press conference unveiling its new HarmonyOS operating system in Dongguan, Guangdong province on August 9, 2019.

Fred Dufour | AFP| Getty Images

“Search integrated into the AppGallery will help a lot in terms of helping people discover apps,” Peng said.

Also, Huawei will be pushing the update to existing users of its devices which should help drive use of the operating system overseas.

Currently, Huawei’s AppGallery has over 530 million monthly active users.

Smartphone challenges ahead

Apps are critical to mobile operating systems. Apple’s iOS and Google Android are the two most dominant operating systems because they have millions of developers making apps for their respective platforms.

Huawei has a suite of apps such as mapping and a browser under a banner called Huawei Mobile Services (HMS). HMS is similar to Google Mobile Services and offers developers kits that can be used to integrate things like location services into apps. HMS has 2.3 million registered developers globally.

And in China, it is able to bring on board popular apps.

However, in international markets, Huawei could face some challenges. For example, its app store is missing major names such as Facebook or Google apps, which are important to users abroad.

“If Huawei wants to be successful at selling phones overseas, then it needs the right applications, which are unlikely to arrive on HarmonyOS. So getting access to Google Mobile Services again is critical if it wants to build its international phone business,” Bryan Ma, vice president of devices research at IDC, said via email.

With Google Android and iOS dominating outside China, Huawei will also have the steep task of convincing users to switch.

“In terms of challenges, it’s still in areas … (whether) the product will be able to be be accepted by heavy users using, for example, Google apps and Google services,” Canalys’ Peng said.

Meanwhile, Huawei also potentially lacks the key supplies to make phones in the future due to the U.S. moving to cut it off from chips. Huawei’s Mate X2 uses Huawei’s proprietary Kirin 9000 processor. Richard Yu, the CEO of the consumer business, said the company has enough production capacity for the foldable phone even after warning last year supplies could run out.

That, along with the uncertainty of success with the operating system, is a big challenge Huawei faces.

“Huawei could continue to drive the local China market without such concerns (about HarmonyOS apps), but there is a much bigger issue in that it is struggling to get components in the first place,” Ma said.

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Spotify plans to launch in over 80 more countries

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The Spotify app on an iPhone.

Fabian Sommer | picture alliance | Getty Images

Audio streaming service Spotify is planning to almost double its geographic footprint and launch into 85 more countries, adding 36 languages to its platform in the process.

The Swedish firm announced the international expansion on Tuesday at a livestreaming event that featured Justin Bieber, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

Spotify said the expansion, into what are largely seen as developing countries across Asia, Africa, the Pacific and the Caribbean, will enable an additional billion people to use its platform.

In the next few days, Spotify will launch in countries like Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Samoa, Jamaica, Bahamas, and Belize.

“These moves represent Spotify’s broadest market expansion to date,” Spotify said. Following the expansion, Spotify will be available in over 170 countries.

Spotify launched in 2008 just a year after the first iPhone was released and it has amassed 345 million monthly active users across 95 countries. Of those, 155 million are premium paying subscribers.

While Spotify started out as a music streaming platform, it now allows people to listen to podcasts, audio books and meditations.

The Stockholm-headquartered firm has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to secure exclusive podcast series including a new show from Barack and Michelle Obama that will feature Bruce Springsteen.

Competition with tech giants

Spotify faces stiff competition from Apple, Amazon and Google, which have launched their own music streaming services in recent years.

The company’s biggest competitor is arguably Apple Music, and Spotify is involved in a bitter antitrust dispute with Apple. Spotify doesn’t think it’s fair that it has to pay Apple a commission, or what it sees as a “tax,” when users subscribe and pay for its service via Apple’s App Store. It filed a complaint to the European Commission in March 2019 and a probe is ongoing.

Spotify’s share price was down 4% to $350 on Monday and it fell another 0.5% to $348 in after-hours trading.

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Bitcoin (BTC) price falls below $50,000 as Janet Yellen raises alarm

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Bitcoin’s price descended further on Tuesday after U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen issued a warning about the cryptocurrency.

The world’s most valuable digital coin plunged 16% in the last 24 hours, sinking below $50,000 to trade as low as $45,389 at 4:10 a.m. ET, according to data from Coin Metrics.

On Monday, Yellen called bitcoin an “extremely inefficient way of conducting transactions” and warned about its use in illicit activity. She also sounded the alarm about bitcoin’s impact on the environment. The token’s wild surge has reminded some critics of the sheer level of electricity required to produce new coins.

Bitcoin isn’t controlled by any central authority. So-called miners run high-power machines which compete to solve complex math puzzles in order to make a transaction go through. Bitcoin’s network consumes more electricity than Pakistan, according to an online tool from researchers at Cambridge University.

Yellen also warned about the risks of bitcoin investing to retail investors Monday.

“It is a highly speculative asset and you know I think people should be aware it can be extremely volatile and I do worry about potential losses that investors can suffer,” the former Federal Reserve chair told CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin at a New York Times DealBook conference.

Bitcoin is still up more than 60% since the start of the year, and price swings of more than 10% aren’t a rarity in crypto markets. Bitcoin once climbed to almost $20,000 in 2017 before shedding 80% of its value the following year.

The digital coin hit $1 trillion in market value for the first time last week — though it’s now sunk below $900 billion, according to CoinDesk. It’s gotten a boost from news of Wall Street banks and large companies like Tesla and Mastercard warming to cryptocurrencies.

Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO, said over the weekend that the prices of bitcoin and rival token ether “seem high.” It comes after Tesla’s announcement earlier this month that it had bought $1.5 billion worth of bitcoin. Tesla shares suffered their biggest fall since Sept. 23, 2020 on Monday.

Bitcoin has been getting traction from mainstream investors, in part because of the perception that it’s a store of value similar to gold. Bullish investors claim the cryptocurrency can act as a hedge against rising inflation.

But skeptics warn that bitcoin has no intrinsic value and is one of the biggest market bubbles in history. Analysts at JPMorgan last week said bitcoin was an “economic side show” and that crypto assets rank as the “poorest hedge” against significant declines in stocks.

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Boris Johnson says how coronavirus lockdown will be lifted

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a televised press conference at 10 Downing Street on February 22, 2021 in London, England.

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LONDON — U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson had some good news for the country on Monday after months of lockdown, saying an “unparalleled” vaccination program meant it was “now traveling on a one-way road to freedom.”

The lockdown easing for England will come in a number of steps and will “at every stage be dependent on data not dates,” he said. The first step will see schools in England reopen on March 8. The last, planned for June 21, will see the abolishment of all limits on mixing and the reopening of any sectors that remain closed, such as nightclubs.

It comes as Johnson confirmed that over 17.7 million Britons had received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

“Nearly a year after this pandemic began, this unparalleled national effort has decisively shifted the odds in our favor,” Johnson said in a press conference Monday evening. “We no longer have to rely simply on lockdowns.”

He added: “With every day that goes by, this program of vaccinations is creating a shield around the entire population, which means that we are now traveling on a one-way road to freedom and we can begin safely to restart our lives and do it with confidence.”

More infectious strain

The U.K. has been one of the worst-hit countries by the pandemic, with the fourth-highest number of infections after the U.S., India and Brazil. To date, it has counted over 4.1 million coronavirus cases and has seen 120,987 fatalities as a result of the virus, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

It saw a sharp rise in cases heading into winter as a new, more infectious strain of the virus emerged in the southeast of the country. It has now become the dominant strain of the virus across the country, and has been detected in numerous countries worldwide, alongside other more virulent strains of the virus.

One silver lining in the U.K.’s experience of the pandemic has been its vaccination response. It was the first country in the world to approve a coronavirus vaccine, the candidate from Pfizer and BioNTech.

It then approved and starting administering the AstraZeneca-University of Oxford jab, a cheaper vaccine that’s produced in the U.K. and is easier to transport and store than rival jabs.

Four key tests

Johnson outlined four tests that must be passed before the U.K. can move to the next stage of lifting restrictions. These are:

  • That the vaccine deployment program continues successfully.
  • Evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalizations and deaths in those vaccinated.
  • Infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalizations which would put unsustainable pressure on the National Health Service.
  • That its assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new coronavirus variants of concern.

Speaking to the nation, Johnson acknowledged that some people would like a more cautious approach to lifting the lockdown, whereas others would prefer the plan was accelerated. He referred to a “careful balance,” but stressed that restrictions could not continue indefinitely.

“It’s thanks for the rollout of these vaccinations … that the balance of that judgment is now changing in our favor. And thanks to the vaccinations that there is light ahead leading us to a spring and a summer which I think will be seasons of hope,” Johnson said. “From which we will not go back.”

New infections falling

Data shows that new infections are falling, with early studies indicating that coronavirus vaccines also help to prevent transmission of the virus, as well as preventing serious disease.

In the last seven days, the U.K. has seen 78,308 new cases of the coronavirus, down 11% from the previous weekly count. The number of deaths in the last seven days, 3,362 fatalities, is also 27% lower than the previous seven-day count. Hospitalizations are also falling.

—CNBC’s Holly Ellyatt contributed to this article.

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