For smart phones and tablets, operation systems like Apple’s IoS and Android are the infrastructures there to ensure the functionality of apps. Recently, with the sudden ban of Android OS on Huawei smartphones, the China IT giant demonstrates great courage and respond with its own next-gen OS—Harmony (also known as Hongmeng OS).
The question is: Will Harmony OS be capable enough to replace Android?
No Android, No Problem
In Dongguan, China, at the Huawei Developers’ Conference, Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s Business Group, quickly unveiled the new Huawei operating system, called Harmony OS.
Harmony is not a mobile phone system to replace Android but rather is designed to work on devices from tablets to phones, smartwatches to cars and much else besides.
It is an open-source OS, which means that Harmony can be adopted by third-party manufacturers who want to ensure their Internet of Things devices can talk to others.
While it’s been confirmed that current devices such as the Huawei P30 Pro will be able to receive the next version of Google’s phone operating system, Android Q, it’s not clear yet what will happen to future devices.
Therefore developing a new operating system that doesn’t rely on American software could be a wise way for the company to be prepared.
Still, Huawei is very clear that it doesn’t want to abandon Android, saying it wanted to keep working with its American partners. Switching to Harmony would only happen if Huawei was forbidden to use Android.
Yu said, “We can implement Harmony any time,” and indicated that it is ready now. So ready, in fact, that it can be put in place within “a couple of days”. Dr. Wang Chenglu, President of Consumer Business Software, agreed, saying that if a switch to Harmony was required, then the new OS could be rolled out in a matter of “one to two days”.
In fact, some parts of Harmony OS are already to be found in the most recent Huawei phones. The microkernel – a small piece of software – that is at the heart of the new OS, is currently used exclusively in the Trusted Execution Environment where the biometrics are stored.
So why, in that case, wouldn’t Huawei put it on its phones, too, if it’s so superior? The answer is obvious, it would make it hard, if not impossible, to sell it pretty much anywhere outside China. Maybe Huawei’s strategy is clever: put Harmony on a smart TV, a smartwatch, a tablet or even a laptop and let people get used to it. Then, when it’s familiar and everyone’s enjoying it, why not release it on phones, too? Huawei is hoping that’s not going to be necessary but is determined to be ready if it is.—-edited from Forbes
‘National OS’ for China
“Huawei has a big opportunity to scale the OS in China across multiple device categories and to build a robust developer community as the Chinese government is pushing for a ‘national OS’ in a bid to become less reliant on Google and Microsoft,” Neil Shah, Research Director for Devices and Ecosystems at Counterpoint Technology Market Research, told TechRadar Middle East.
Chinese internet players such as Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent have developed OSes based on Android before but it did not take off. If the government pushed other big Chinese brands such as Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi to develop not only smartphones but also other products such as TVs, he said then HarmonyOS can scale across and it will become more attractive for developers to develop apps.
Chinese brands hold more than 40% of the smart phone market share globally. According to Counterpoint, Huawei had 15.8%, Xiaomi had 9%, Oppo had 8.1%, Vivo had 7.5%, Lenovo had 2.6% and Realme had 1.3% as of second quarter this year.
Shah also said that HarmonyOS is quite disruptive for the China market and by looking at the architecture; it is quite flexible as it is microkernel and it has also opened the platform for its competitors.
“Microkernel architecture is the future of OS and Huawei is the first major OS vendor to adopt it on a larger scale. Google is also planning for micro-kernel architecture in its in-development Fuchsia OS. Huawei has learned the shortcomings from the current OS architectures such as Android’s monolithic kernel and Apple’s fragmented OS approach to develop a distributed and flexible microkernel architecture,” he said.
The Chinese company said that the OS version 2.0 of its microkernel will be released next year while version 3.0 arrives in 2021.
When the time is right and Huawei has more developers developing apps for Harmony OS, Shah said that developers can take full advantage of the scalability of the microkernel architecture. Huawei is the biggest player in China in terms of mobile devices and the internet of things(IoT) devices.
The ‘Harmonious’ Service Boom
In the next five years, he said that TVs, smart-watches, smartphones and tablets will see higher proliferation and then in-car infotainment and electric vehicles. China’s BYD is the biggest electric car manufacturer in the world and they may also form an alliance with Huawei.
In 2022, Harmony will come into AR, VR and other head-mounted devices. The market has seen different platforms in smartwatch (WatchOS, Tizen, Fitbit OS, Android Wear, etc), smart TV (Android TV, Linux, WebOS, Tizen, etc), IoT segments (RTOS flavours, LiteOS, Linux, mbedOS, etc).
An open-source and robust microkernel-based OS platform has the potential to drive enthusiasm in the non-smartphone space as well. Even though most of the big developers on board are based in China, Shah said that Huawei will face pressure from attracting app developers from outside of China and they need to do it alone.
Huawei Mobile Services connects more than 910,000 global developers and 100m users outside of China. If the Chinese brands take the open HarmonyOS route and build two or three mobile phones globally, Shah said then there is more scale for developers to develop apps for HarmonyOS rather than on Samsung or Apple stores.
However, he said that the only challenge is that Apple and Google took almost a decade to strengthen its app stores in terms of security and launching it in different markets. It is possible that Huawei will find it difficult to maintain the app store and in different countries, localization of apps, to get developers to optimise apps for HarmonyOS and integrate other monetisation options via Harmony SDKs at a scale which other OS providers were not able to do – for example, Microsoft with Windows Phone.
Google has reached a stage where it supports many languages but Huawei may take a few years to reach that level. Eventually, he said that other Chinese players will have to adopt HarmonyOS as it will give them some leverage over Google as well.
Samsung’s Tizen is also a competitor to Android but some of the Goggle apps work on Samsung TVs. With Harmony OS, he said that Huawei has an opportunity to boost its services business – Huawei Cloud, HiLink, Music, Video and others.—edited from techradar.com
Harmony OS was born not in a harmonious political and economic environment, giving it extra charisma to play the ‘savior role’ if Android decides to seriously out of Huawei smart phones. Although the difficulties came from Harmony’s cross-boarder operation, the great strength lies domestically.
Edited by Joreal Qian