What is HarmonyOS? A guide to Huawei's operating system

We take a look at Huawei's fledgeling OS that's aimed at IoT and, potentially, smartphones

Mockup of HarmonyOS on phone

With the US government's ban looming over it, and Google forced to stop supplying Android to it, 2019 has been a tough year for Huawei. Despite releasing a range of acclaimed smartphones, the company is now facing an uphill battle to keep the world's most popular OS on its devices.

However, it has revealed a backup plan should the worst happen; it's been developing its own operating system, HarmonyOS.

What is HarmonyOS?

It's actually 'HongmengOS', but Huawei has tweaked it to 'Harmony' for the international market. The original name means wild goose in Chinese mythology, which makes no sense, but Harmony is very well suited as it's being touted as a one-size-fits-all multi-device operating system.

It's an idea that Huawei says it has been working on for over a decade; an OS that can power a range of IoT tech from smartwatches, to tablets and even in-car systems. One customisable platform for practically any hardware that's internet-connected - yes, even smartphones, although Huawei isn't too keen to talk about that just yet.

How does it work?

The system is based on a microkernel, which is a minimal software structure for operating system mechanisms. As opposed to monolithic kernel systems which are layered, the microkernel's mechanisms work with smaller source code bases. For example, Android runs on 100 million lines of code.

Harmony, according to Huawei, runs on just 100 lines of code and trumps Android on performance because it has a "Deterministic Latency Engine". This is about prioritising performance, where the system simplifies the communication channels between the software and the hardware - supposedly reducing latency.

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The multi-device part comes from an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) and a distributed architecture kit. The idea is that developers can efficiently build apps that run on multiple devices and the multi-device IDE allows them to code their apps once and deploy them across different hardware. The aim is to create a tightly integrated ecosystem across all user devices. This is enabled by an ARK complier, a system for developers to build with different languages that then translates them into one language for HarmonyOS.

What devices will it be on?

Naturally, you'll all be looking for the word 'phone' but you'll not see it. Huawei's fledgeling OS starts on the Honor Vision Smart TV and will feature in various IoT devices at first. Over the next three years, there is a plan to implement it into laptops and wearables, but there is nothing to suggest it will be in any smartphone, anytime soon.

What about Android?

Here, of course, is the crux of the issue. Despite being in development for a decade, Huawei didn't reveal it had been working on an OS till after Google announced it would stop supplying Android. Rumours are flying around that the Mate 30 will come without Google apps and Huawei has said it could have an OS ready if it is forced to abandon Android. The company is in a rather strange place; it makes brilliant phones, but how brilliant will they be without access to Android?

The official line is that it wants to continue using Google's OS, but with no sign of any relief coming from Trump and the US, Huawei might need to roll out its plan B - perfect harmony.

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