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, now, smartphones

HarmonyOS on the MateX2

Huawei has endured a torrid couple of years following the US government's trade restrictions. The firm has been banned from using the full Android operating system on its smartphones, meaning it can't offer users Google or apps like WhatsApp and Netflix, and this has attributed to its sales sharply declining

To its immense credit, the firm hasn't stopped developing innovative hardware; its Mate 30, Mate 40, and P40 smartphones have all received critical acclaim, all be it with small complaints about the lack of Google services. Huawei's smartphones are lauded for their camera technology, but that isn't enough, it seems, without access to the world's most popular OS.  

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The embattled Chinese firm has always offered to cooperate with the US, but with that looking unlikely, the firm has been busy behind the scenes creating an alternative to Android. This is now ready to be released, with its availability on a range of its tablets and smartphones and it's called 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, but the term 'harmony' is very well suited as it's being designed to be 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. And, due to its ongoing issues with Android and the US government, this will also mean smartphones with the foldable Mate X2 the first to use it.

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.

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?

Huawei's fledgeling OS started on the Honor Vision Smart TV and also feature in various IoT devices, initially. There was a plan to implement it into laptops and wearables, but that has now been upgraded to smartphones.

The OS is already available on Huawei's second foldable offering, the Mate X2, but it is available on older devices as an update. This may include all models of the P40 and Mate 40 and will probably come pre-installed on the next flagship launch, the P50, which is set for launch in the summer. It is also available on the firm's latest tablet, the MatePad Pro. 

What about Android?

HarmonyOS has been in the works for over a decade, but Huawei only unveiled it until after Google announced it would be withdrawing Android support. This naturally led many to assume that Huawei had a replacement in the works, yet curiously what we got was an operating system geared more towards other kinds of hardware.

The strained relations between the US and China has had a huge impact on Huawei. The firm has launched the Mate 30, P40 and Mate 40 with a limited version of Android while it has worked to build up a worthy app gallery. The situation has been anything but harmonious but Huawei might have finally found the answer to that...

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