Huawei has officially announced HarmonyOS, the operating system it was rumored to be developing to replace its reliance on Android. In China, the software will be known as Hongmeng. The company says the operating system, a microkernel-based distributed OS, can be used in everything from smartphones to smart speakers, wearables, and in-vehicle systems to create a shared ecosystem across devices. The operating system will be released as an open-source platform worldwide to encourage adoption.
There’s been a lot of speculation about Huawei’s in-house operating system ever since Google suspended the company’s Android license back in May, following the US government’s decision to put Huawei on the Entity List. Huawei has made no secret of the fact that it’s been working on its own OS, but the extent to which it would be able to act as a substitute for Android is unclear.
Huawei plans to launch HarmonyOS on “smart screen products” later this year, before expanding it to work on other devices, like wearables, over the next three years. The first of these products will be the Honor Smart Screen, which is due to be unveiled on Saturday. Huawei has yet to explicitly say what constitutes a “smart screen” device, but Reuters previously reported that the OS would appear on a range of Honor smart TVs. The focus for the operating system will be products for the Chinese market at first, before Huawei expands it to other markets.
In a statement, the CEO of Huawei’s consumer business group, Richard Yu, says that HarmonyOS is “completely different from Android and iOS” because of its ability to scale across different kinds of devices. “You can develop your apps once, then flexibly deploy them across a range of different devices,” the CEO says. Previously, it’s been unclear whether HarmonyOS would be an operating system for smartphones or for Internet of Things devices. It now appears that it’s designed to power both, similar to Google’s experimental Fuchsia operating system, which is designed to run on various form-factors.
“YOU CAN DEVELOP YOUR APPS ONCE, THEN FLEXIBLY DEPLOY THEM ACROSS A RANGE OF DIFFERENT DEVICES.”
Although the OS will come to more devices over the next three years, in a follow-up press release, Huawei said that “for the time being” it intends to continue using Android on its phones. Whether it can continue to do so is another matter. CNBC reports that in a press conference following the launch, Yu said that the situation was “unclear” as to whether Huawei can still use Android, and that the company is “waiting on an update” to find out.
Since placing Huawei on the Entity List, the Trump administration has indicated that it’s willing to ease the restrictions on the company. In July, senior officials said that the administration would grant licenses to deal with Huawei in instances where national security wouldn’t be impacted. However, yesterday, Bloomberg reported that the White House is delaying its decision about issuing these licenses in the wake of China’s decision to halt purchases of US farming goods. It’s yet another suggestion that the Huawei restrictions have as much to do with the US-China trade war as they do with protecting national security.
HarmonyOS now has an official name, but it still has some major hurdles to overcome. Huawei is expecting developers to recompile their apps for this new operating system, with the ability to code once and deploy across multiple devices with different screen layouts, interactions, and more.
Huawei says developers can compile a range of languages into machine code in a single environment, but it’s unclear exactly how easy that will be for developers. There are a lot of big promises here, but it’s going to be an even bigger challenge to build an app ecosystem to rival both Android and Android Open Source Project (AOSP).
Update August 9th, 8:30AM ET: Added Huawei confirmation that the Honor Smart Screen will be the first product running HarmonyOS, and the company intends to continue using Android for the time being. Comments from Huawei’s consumer CEO noting that the company’s situation with Android is still “unclear” were also added.
According to some people every Chinese companies are linked to the Chinese government, if you try hard enough you can always find excuses to smear their reputations. The concern with certain ones is the extent of that link. With Huawei, the belief is that the company is functionally a part of a PLA cyberespionage unit.
There are plenty of Google-free smartphones in China already (running open source Android).I do not know about china, but I’ve spent a lot of time in korea, and every google device I saw had play services, (closed source, and needed for a lot of features in apps etc.). They do have replacement services that are better fitted for them already in most situations (as do the Koreans) but GPS is still pretty important.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t android phones there, I’m just interested in what type of setups the locals use on that platform. If the Chinese government wants HarmonyOS to success, just as you suggested, it will force Huawei on their people’s. Such as dual boot AOSP/Harmony as a transition. I suspect it will also force other Chinese OEMs to use the OS to bump up the market share to gain influence. If it wants the OS to success globally, it will be foolish to not including US apps to the Harmony App Store (Except China). Huawei or the Chinese government may even subsidize developers to bring popular apps to the Harmony App Store, too.
I have no doubt the Harmony OS will thrive in China. If it really becomes a success outside China, Microsoft will be the biggest loser in the mobile industry, because there is actually a space for a 3rd OS to success, yet it stopped developing Windows mobile.
And forcing Huawei to license the OS to other OEMS. With the Chinese leverage this really can become a third player in mobile OS. China is known for sticking to alien formats that only work there, like their take on proprietary Blu Ray.