In its annual developer conference, Huawei finally unveiled its long-awaited operating system, HarmonyOS, that was secretly under development for years. This new operating system is said to be much faster and smoother than its rival, Android.
In the wake of the recent US trade ban on China, and the subsequent suspension of Huawei’s license by Google, the Chinese company was forced to think of a “Plan B”. Although Huawei had been building the operating system in secrecy to bind their devices into one unified “ecosystem”, the development of the OS only escalated after Huawei temporarily lost the rights to use Google’s Android.
HarmonyOS is built with the concept of “connectivity” and “compatibility” where every device is connected within an ecosystem. To achieve such a level of compatibility, it was necessary to build an operating system that would provide room for developers to build apps and port them for different types of devices without rebuilding them from scratch. Here are a few important highlights from Huawei’s presentation.
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Internet of Things
HarmonyOS features microkernel, same as Google Fuchsia OS, but only does it better than Google in terms of current progress. The first device to use HarmonyOS is Honor Vision TV that was launched on August 10, indicating Huawei’s attempt to decrease its reliance on Google’s Android.
In China, HarmonyOS will be called HongMeng OS and will gradually show up in various smart devices by 2020.
According to Huawei’s senior vice president Catherine Chen, HarmonyOS is an embedded operating system designed for Internet of things (IoT) hardware.
As part of the IoT program, HarmonyOS will be compatible with Smartphones as well. Richard Yu, the company’s Consumer Business Group CEO states that it can migrate to HarmonyOS from Android at any time due to the nature & flexibility of the microkernel. However, the Chinese company decided to stick to Android for now owing to its commitments to Google.
Security & Android apps compatibility
In future, HarmonyOS will support Android apps. For that, developers will need to use Huawei made IDE that supports C/C++, Java, and Kotlin to convert android apps and make them compatible for HarmonyOS. It is seemingly an easier process due to the flexibility offered by the new OS. Interestingly, HarmonyOS won’t support root access because of security risks.
Harmony OS will be available in smartphones, smart speakers, computers, smartwatches, wireless earbuds, cars, and tablets. The developers can create one version of their apps and then use them across a range of different devices.
“We needed an OS that supports all scenarios, that can be used across a broad range of devices and platforms, and that can meet consumer demand for low latency and strong security,”
Unlike Android that uses Linux’s kernel, Harmony OS uses a “deterministic latency engine” that improves latency and latency fluctuation by 25.7% and 55.6 respectively. Moreover, Huawei claims that the microkernel can make “IPC [Inter Process Communication] performance up to five times more efficient than existing systems.”
Huawei will be open-sourcing the HarmonyOS which means that the source code of the operating system will be available to the developers for further manipulation and anybody can use it to create compatible devices. The version 2.0 of HarmonyOS will be released in the next year and version 3.0 will be available by 2021.
Huawei claims that Harmony is an entirely different operating system than Android or iOS. That is because it enables AI capability in different forms from computers, tablets and other domains. For now, Huawei aims at focusing on the development of Harmony OS only in China. However, with future plans to expand globally.
Can it replace Android?
The biggest hurdle in outcompeting an existing successful operating system is to convince the developers to start building for the new platform. Over the years, Microsoft, Samsung, Blackberry, Firefox, Jolla failed to persuade the developers to make apps for Windows Phone, TizenOS, FirefoxOS, SailfishOS respectively.
No matter how feature-rich or faster the operating system is, without the proper support from the developer’s community, a new operating system can’t displace Android. This is exactly the reason why Huawei still chooses to stick to Google’s Android and keeps HarmonyOS as their plan B for smartphones. But, the Chinese smartphone giant vows to continue developing the OS and make it available in various smart devices in the near future.