Huawei unveiled Harmony OS, a new platform for digital devices, this week. But it will not use it in any smartphones this year, and will instead continue using Android.
That news partially contradicts an earlier report that stated that Huawei would launch a low-end smartphone this year using its own home-grown operating system. But Harmony is real, and Huawei confirmed that it would move to this system in smartphones should tensions with the U.S. government escalate further and prevent it from using Android.
“Harmony OS is completely different from Android and iOS,” Huawei’s Richard Yu said during a presentation at the firm’s developer conference in Dongguan, China. He was referring to Harmony OS’s modular, microkernel-based design, which he says makes Harmony OS smaller, faster, and more secure than Android.
But realistically speaking, Harmony OS is quite similar to Android and iOS: It will run on a variety of smart devices, starting with smart TVs. And Harmony OS, which Huawei says is “a distributed OS for all scenarios,” will move quickly to smart watches, smart displays, and in-car devices, and it is being adapted for smartphones too. You know, just like Android and iOS.
Microsoft tried this approach, unsuccessfully, with One Windows, where its Windows Core OS was pushed past the PC to tablets, smartphones, the Xbox One video game console, embedded devices, the Surface Hub collaboration solution, and other devices. But the resulting platform, which allowed developers to theoretically write one app that would work on each of those device types, was never popular, negating whatever advantages the underlying platforms had.
And even Google has struggled to push Android, the world’s most popular digital platform, past smartphones. Developers rarely improve their apps meaningfully for Android-based tablets, as they do on Apple’s iPad. And Google’s other Android-based initiatives, like Android TV, Android Auto, and Android Things, have all struggled.
The digirati are comparing Harmony OS to Google’s Fuchsia project because they heart the word “microkernel” and get excited. But to my mind, this system is much more similar to Tizen, which Samsung uses across multiple devices, including some low-end smartphones. Tizen hasn’t been hugely successful: Its biggest success to date, perhaps, has been the Samsung Gear line of wearables. But many have theorized that Samsung will one day ditch Android if it can create a Tizen-based smartphone OS that can run Android apps.
Huawei does have one big advantage over Samsung: It is hugely popular in its home market of China, which is the biggest market in the world. And the mass acceptance of its gadgets there should drive developers to embrace Harmony OS in ways that have yet to happen with Tizen.
Whatever happens, Harmony OS is real. And Huawei has publicly stated its intention to move to this system, if necessary, and replace Android.
<p>Well, running on multiple devices wouldn't be all that hard if Harmony is just a kernel (particularly if all those devices used the same processor family), but what Microsoft tried to do was to bring the customer-facing aspects to multiple different platforms which is more ambitious and much, much harder to do successfully. If Huawei tries to go down that road they are likely to encounter the same sort of problems that Microsoft faced.</p>
<blockquote><em><a href="#448506">In reply to wright_is:</a></em></blockquote><p>Windows NT wasn't fully compatible across all hardware platforms. Since most Windows applications had little or no assembly, the fact that developers were used to compiling to x86 shouldn't have been much of factor if true compatibility had been achieved. Most likely the other platforms didn't sell well because of the risk associated with changing platforms and a lack of any compelling reason to do so. I suspect that the whole idea of NT supporting multiple platforms was motivated by computer science purity than any market analysis that determined a significant demand to support other platforms.</p><p><br></p><p>It's true that the Linux kernel runs on many different platforms but once you change the form-factor significantly the GUI and often the API is left behind. This isn't the result of any flaw in Linux, in fact it is the implicit acknowledgement that different form-factors have different requirements and use-cases and the implementation should reflect that. That was the reality that Microsoft chose to ignore with their "One Windows" approach.</p><p><br></p><p><br></p>
<blockquote><em><a href="#448588">In reply to wright_is:</a></em></blockquote><p>Sure, I remember since I wrote assembly code for several of those processors, but I don't get your point.</p>
<blockquote><em><a href="#448360">In reply to MikeGalos:</a></em></blockquote><p>From a strictly computer science POV you may be right, but the significance of this OS doesn't lie in its academic value.</p>
<blockquote><em><a href="#448376">In reply to MikeGalos:</a></em></blockquote><p>It can't be a Linux distro without a Linux kernel and it can't use a Linux kernel if it is a microkernel. Based on what we know now, it has no more in common with Linux than it does with Windows.</p>