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Harmony OS: What It is and what it could be

By Arteculate Aug 12, 2019 #Android #Harmony OS #Huawei

Ever since Huawei lost access to Google and Android and then gained it back, things haven’t quite been the same. Last Friday, at the Huawei Developer Conference, Huawei also announced its own operating system. Called Hongmeng OS in China, it would be known globally as Harmony OS. But here’s the thing. It’s not for smartphones. At least, not yet.

What is Harmony OS?

As per Richard Yu – CEO of Huawei’s Business Group, Harmony OS is an operating system that can be used across a broad range of devices and platforms. It is open-source and is comprised of a microkernel, rather than a regular kernel. This means that it stripped down version of a kernel that would be found in an Android device. In fact, there was no inclination that Harmony OS would be on a smartphone. Rather, it is aimed at Smart TVs, smartwatches and a number of IoT devices.

Harmony OS
According to Huawei, Harmony OS is aimed at Smart TVs, smartwatches and IoT devices (Image Credits: PocketNow

In terms of pure performance, Harmony OS would also be better than Android. That’s what Huawei says. How true this claim is, remains to be seen. They also noted that the use of a microkernel improves the security of Harmony OS. The microkernel can be “scaled on-demand for wider system security”.

So it’s not for smartphones?

Well, that’s the interesting part. Nowhere during the developer conference was it mentioned that Harmony OS would be developed for smartphones. There were rumors that Huawei is planning to launch a mid-range smartphone running Harmony OS. There were also rumors of the upcoming Huawei Mate 30 smartphone running it. But for now, they’re all just rumors.

A representative from Huawei’s PR department tweeted stating that Harmony OS is an OS with a bigger vision. She went on to share that it is an OS for IoT products such as the Honor Vision. At the conference, Huawei officials also stated that an expansion to smartphones could happen sometime over the next 3 years. But for now, they’re sticking with Android.

Harmony OS: Not as harmonious as it suggests

While having a smartphone running Harmony OS is likely to be the backup plan for Huawei if Google pulls out again, the problem with the operating system is the fact that it’s not compatible with Android apps. According to Patrick Moorhead – President of Moor Insights and Strategy, “The hardest part will be linkages to peripherals like cameras, fingerprint readers, microphones, AR sensors, which are all API-based to Android APIs, not Harmony”.

An Operating System is only as good as the apps it has

Richard Yu also stated that Harmony OS will not be compatible with Android apps out of the box. He also went on to share that turning an Android app into a Harmony OS app will require a Huawei-made IDE that supports C/C++, Java and Kotlin. The IDE is yet to be released, though.  

This, in turn, raises a number of questions (and eyebrows). Will developers go through the trouble of converting their Android apps to be compatible with Harmony OS? An even bigger question is, what would persuade people to ditch Android and migrate to Harmony OS?

Harmony OS
Samsung’s Tizen OS for smartphones tried to be an Android alternative but died due to lack of apps. (Image Credits: Ars Technica)

Android alternatives are nothing new. We had Windows Phone, Sailfish OS, Ubuntu Touch, Firefox OS and Samsung’s Tizen OS. While all these operating systems go to show that there are plenty of Android alternatives, they all died out from one main problem: they had a lack of apps. The same holds true for Harmony OS. Without any native apps in comparison to Android, Huawei’s offering has very little to offer.

This makes Harmony OS a tough sell to consumers. While its hometown of China might be a saving grace, internationally, Harmony OS is likely to go the way of Windows Phone, Tizen and other Android. Basically, without apps, no one buys the devices. If no one buys the device, developers won’t spend time fine-tuning the apps for the device.

Compatibility and synchronicity will be a nightmare

Even if Harmony OS did build up a portfolio of commonly used Android apps, there’s also the question of quality. According to Huawei, their operating system is supposed to run everywhere with no hiccups at all. But if you apply the same logic to Android apps, developers go to great lengths to ensure that their apps run on a variety of devices with various screen sizes.

Harmony OS
Testing your app on devices with different screen resolutions is a challenge in itself (Image Credits: OutSystems)

That in itself is a challenge. When you factor in multiple devices, that effort increases exponentially. So what looks good on your smartwatch may look horribly pixelated when it’s projected to a 4K TV.

Harmony OS isn’t alone

In case you didn’t know, Google is also working on its own microkernel operating system. Called Google Fuchsia, the OS is aimed at IoT and connected devices, almost directly competing with Harmony OS. Details about Fuschia OS are not yet fully unveiled but it’s a safe bet that it would go up against Huawei’s take on an IoT operating system.

Harmony OS
With Fuchsia OS, Google is testing the waters with a new operating system for IoT devices and possibly smartphones (Image Credits: The Next Web)

So at the end of the day, Harmony OS does represent the next stage in Operating Systems. It will possibly be everywhere. But will it be in a smartphone? Well, that still remains to be seen.

By Arteculate

Arteculate is your guide to the Asian tech industry. We give you unparalleled insights, accurate, local tech news, thoughtful features and sometimes scathing opinions on where things are headed. Stay tuned for the best of Asia!

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