The HarmonyOS is a new OS by Huawei. Here we will discuss its development, types, specifications, future, and the systems it will be supporting.
What does the world’s largest device maker do when it can no longer effectively sell phones?
That’s the question Huawei had to ask itself about a year ago in 2020.
Huawei overtook Samsung and Apple to take the number one spot for a single quarter and then less than a year later it fell out of the global top five with its market share plunging to just four percent.
Its massive footprint disappearing around the world.
Huawei was first hurt in international markets by losing access to the play store and other Google services, but the really devastating blow came when the company started running out of the high-end processors it had stockpiled earlier.
It meant that even in China where the google ban did not affect them, they eventually got overtaken by local rivals like Oppo, Vivo, and Xiaomi with no option to buy high-end chips for the last year or so due to u.s sanctions.
No domestic alternatives are on the horizon for the next few years at least.
Many of the company’s devices now have to be pre-ordered in limited quantities.
Huawei experience stores often have no actual inventory to sell the company’s main P-series flagship phones which usually come out around April have been delayed by many months this year.
The giant event had to spin out its honor sub-brand completely to save at least that part of the business from the sanctions.
Huawei is simply slowly running out of chips and by extension, it’s running out of phones that can sell too.
So what does a phone company do that doesn’t have any phones to sell?
Well, apparently it takes its almost 200,000 employees and goes through one of the most mind-boggling transformations I’ve ever seen in corporate history.
Turning itself from a hardware company to a software company.
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Let’s take a look at that transition to explain Huawei’s new direction.
We must first understand the company’s most important new project HarmonyOS.
Unfortunately, because Huawei keeps calling many different things HarmonyOS, it’s a little hard to define what it actually is.
I’ve read the Huawei developer documentation and I’ve even tried and failed to build a HarmonyOS app myself.
So let me explain where the project is right now and where I think it is going in the future.
Huawei first announced HarmonyOS in 2019 when the Google ban was dropped on them.
The company initially presented it as an entirely new operating system built in-house by Huawei that would come with its own microkernel and would fully replace android on phones and other devices.
A few months later they said that it was actually totally not made for phones and then this year they finally released some sort of a hybrid system like the one Huawei originally described technically does exist.
I’ve heard Huawei refer to it as either open Harmony or embedded Harmony at Times which you can think of as sort of HarmonyOS in its purest form.
Huawei themselves have confirmed to me that this did not in fact replace the systems running on Huawei’s phones or tablets or watches or whatever.
Open Harmony is designed to run primarily on third-party devices like the Medea smart oven that they use to demo in their keynote or smart fridges.
Open Harmony is an intriguing but relatively simple system so far and it is an actual open-source project that any device maker can contribute to or run on their devices.
Now Huawei’s own devices like their phones tablets and watches don’t actually run open Harmony instead they continue to run a version of whatever OS they did before, an android fork or light OS for example.
But they now have bits and pieces of Open Harmony basically attached to them for example on phones.
They actually bundled the Harmony OS microkernel next to the main operating system.
It is responsible for handling a few things like user authentication and managing your biometric data separate from the rest of the system.
Huawei also attached the HarmonyOS app platform and connectivity layer to all of their devices.
This means that apps built specifically for HarmonyOS can run on Open Harmony, on android based Huawei phones, on light OS-based Huawei smartwatches, on whatever OS-based Huawei TV, in-car infotainment systems.
They can vary seamlessly pair and share data as well and this shared layer is actually why Huawei thinks it makes sense to call all of their various systems running on all of their various devices a single operating system.
Now I and many other people on the internet, strongly disagree with this being an operating system but I also want to spare you a 10-minute philosophical rant about what an operating system is and isn’t.
So let’s just agree that this is in fact a platform of sorts and let’s move on to the very fascinating characteristics and implications for the future HarmonyOS.
Its app platform is built from the ground up to make multi-device collaboration very smooth and easy for both users and developers.
- Modular Apps
- Self-Splitting Apps
- Atomic Services
HarmonyOS apps have three really interesting capabilities that enable better connections.
First, apps are modular and that allows them to load different components based on what device they’re running on.
An app on a phone could run in full and could give you a complex UI while that same app could also run on a watch or on a TV where it would maybe only load parts of the apps like an overview screen for example.
This flexibility makes it much easier for developers to just write an app once and run it almost everywhere.
Second, when multiple devices are connected into what the company calls a super device, the app can split itself up and run different modules on different devices at once wirelessly.
So a game running on your phone could cast its visuals to your TV but could keep the controls running on the phone for example with the harmony OS connectivity stack keeping the two in sync.
Now an android app developer could theoretically replicate many of these capabilities themselves as well like Google has done with the cast for example.
But with Harmony OS most of these cross-device capabilities are built right into the app platform so basically theoretically any third-party developer could take advantage of them by just declaring the modules of their apps properly.
The OS would take care of the rest.
Third, Huawei also has something called Atomic Services.
These are little HTML-based mini-apps that the user doesn’t have to install.
They just load basically instantly as a website would and Huawei has primarily shown these as companions to smart devices like smart ovens for example.
So the user wouldn’t have to install their companion app but could just tap an NFC and get basic functionality right away.
These three things plus a robust new connectivity stack is what Huawei thinks will make HarmonyOS apps so much better that users and developers might want to switch over to them away from android apps basically.
Especially in China where users apparently have like 50 different smart devices and might want to take advantage of all of these cross-device capabilities.
HormoneyOS in China
Now I don’t know if that’s actually going to be enough. I mean there are apparently only a few hundred Harmonio apps so far with almost none outside of China yet plus building a new app ecosystem is extremely hard.
Just ask anybody who’s ever tried and while Huawei apparently still has about a billion-ish active devices in circulation.
Remember that they basically can’t sell any new ones at scale for the next few years at least.
So that pool will basically also start disappearing in the next few years.
Those are really difficult odds and if there’s one thing that developers don’t like to build brand new apps for its platforms that are rapidly shrinking.
This actually brings us back to the original question that why is Huawei trying so hard to build a new operating system or I think more correctly a new platform when it can’t appear to sell phones anymore.
It will essentially run out of phones and other devices to run that platform on.
To answer that question we will have to read between the lines.
See surely Huawei wants HarmonyOS to run on hundreds of millions of their own devices at first but they never said that they’d want to stop there in fact both versions of HarmonyOS.
So the pure open Harmony and the weird hybrid that we have running on Huawei phones for example are very much built so that they can run on third-party devices too.
Open harmony already runs mostly on third-party devices and if HarmonyOS on phones and watches.
It is just something Huawei added on to other operating systems like android then surely Oppo, Xiaomi, Vivo, or other phone brands could add it to their devices too if they want it.
There are rumors that those companies are at least testing that OS.
Huawei has openly said that they want to support more base operating systems in the future too.
So maybe the smartwatches and fitness bands and TVs and all of the other devices that these companies have could soon support HarmonyOS as well.
Almost all Chinese phone makers like Xiaomi, Oppo, Realme, and so on, have started building huge portfolios of smart connected devices.
Where most of the devices that they’re selling aren’t even made by them but by random third-party contract manufacturers.
These companies are all facing a hugely complex connectivity problem and sure they could build their entire connectivity stack to solve it themselves.
But if a freely available super robust platform and app ecosystem existed that they could just add to their devices much likely they just add android to their phones, they might just be inclined to use that instead.
I am somewhat speculating of course but I think this is the real master plan for HarmonyOS to turn it into the default connectivity and app platform for many manufacturers not just Huawei at least in China.
HarmonyOS Success Factors
I think there are at least three reasons why this could theoretically work.
First, remember that Google isn’t present in China so the phone ecosystem there is super fragmented with all device makers creating their own app stores, their own bundled app services, etc.
This means many things such as Google Home or Google Cast or the upcoming smart device alliance that we use outside of China to manage our devices just aren’t present there instead.
Each device maker has it’s own somewhat called Garden, interoperability can be an actual headache for both users and developers.
This fragmentation has already given rise to many cross-company platforms such as Wechat mini-apps for example and might give rise to a cross-company and cross-device platform like HarmonyOS as well.
Second, while most other Chinese device makers weren’t hit as hard by the U.S sanctions as Huawei was, they have all seen the devastation it has cost a company.
They are very much looking to strengthen domestic platforms where possible, so they can avoid the same happening to them as well.
Third, now that Huawei can’t really sell phones at scale anymore, Xiaomi, Oppo, and the others can stop seeing them as purely a competitor that they have to defeat at all costs and can instead start seeing them as a partner that they can actually work with.
Now to be clear, this is going to be a massive uphill battle and Huawei is not at all guaranteed to succeed.
As China is an extremely unique market so Huawei with all of its troubles has actually found a really interesting opportunity in it.
The company itself has already said that it wants to pivot to primarily becoming a software maker at least for now.
If they manage to get device makers and developers across the industry to hop onto the HarmonyOS platform, they could maybe turn it into a third major ecosystem besides Apple’s iOS, MAC ecosystem, Google’s Android, and Chrome OS.
It is built to power not just mobile phones or tablets but many other smart devices out there as well. Even some mainstream platforms like Google and Facebook might be working on HarmonyOS.
Is Harmony OS based on Android?
HarmonyOS is ready to be launched on all types of Android devices. It is somehow similar to EMUI, Huawei’s own Android platform for mobile phones.
Will harmony OS replace Android?
It might do that but HarmonyOS is not designed to replace any of the android platforms like Android or iOS.
What devices will get harmony OS?
Most of the Huawei phones are going to get HarmonyOS this year 2021:
Here is the list of the devices which will be updated to HarmonyOS.
- Huawei Mate Xs
- Huawei Nova 7 SE 5G Vitality
- Huawei Nova 7 SE 5G
- Huawei Nova 8
- Huawei Mate 20 Pro
- Huawei Mate 20
- Huawei Nova 7 SE 5G Lohas
- Huawei Mate 20 RS Por
Is Harmony OS any good?
HarmonyOS is better than the Huawei’s android platform called EUMI Android-based EUMI”.
It can work well with lesser storage available.
HarmonyOS is also more speedy than Android OS.
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