Huawei Unveils Harmony OS, Won’t Ditch Android

Posted on August 9, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Android, iOS, Mobile, Smart Home with 16 Comments

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.

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Comments (16)

16 responses to “Huawei Unveils Harmony OS, Won’t Ditch Android”

  1. bart

    I truly hope this system will be successful. Even if it is to create more competition. But mostly, because we have see what tech concentrated in one country, can do to businesses. Obviously to no fault of those same tech companies, but,... Ah well, we all know who I am talking about

  2. skane2600

    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.

    • wright_is

      In reply to skane2600:

      Microsoft brought NT to multiple platforms, on release, including various RISC families (Alpha, MIPS, SPARC), as well as Itanium. But developers were used to pumping out x86 code, so little, other than bespoke stuff ever got onto the other platforms and therefore the other platforms never sold well with Windows and remained mainly the domain of UNIX.

      Likewise, Linux runs on multiple platforms, from small, ARM based devices like Raspberry Pis, through smartphones and desktops up to big iron and super computers, the UIs are available on most of those platforms and the major services and applications are available on most platforms.

      But Linux comes from enthusiasts and has more penetration in niche markets, because it is lighter than Windows - although it could be a lot lighter, because of its monolithic kernel.

      For example, if you are running on a super computer, you still have to have the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi drivers etc. on the platform - or you have to roll your own system.

      • skane2600

        In reply to wright_is:

        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.


        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.



        • wright_is

          In reply to skane2600:

          You are forgetting, that those were different times. The Intel dominance was still building.

          We had just come from an Era where Z80, 8080, 6502, 6809, 68000, 8086 all shared the market and there were dozens of different operating systems. Intel also wanted so drop x86 and go over to Itanic, sorry, Itanium.

          • skane2600

            In reply to wright_is:

            Sure, I remember since I wrote assembly code for several of those processors, but I don't get your point.

            • wright_is

              In reply to skane2600:

              That at the time of Windows NT's introduction the dominance of Intel wasn't such a forgone conclusion. The previous 2 decades had shown that a wide variety of processors needed to be catered for, so making NT cross-platform made sense, when it was concieved.

              By the time it hit the market, however, a lot of Intel-dependent developers had started releasing software and, being small companies and one-man-bands, they couldn't afford the investment to produce and test their code on multiple platforms, so Intel became the de facto platform for Windows.

  3. MikeGalos

    But is it REALLY an actual new OS or, like iOS, macOS, Android and Linux, just another variation on the 1960s Unix design? (Which itself was a stripped down subset of the even earlier Multics)


    if it is, that's a huge achievement and one only accomplished by Microsoft.


    If not, <yawn>.

  4. glenn8878

    What's this mystery OS? I wish a launch screen is leaked.


    I always felt Windows 8 tile approach was clumsy and awful on the eyes (ugly). It's still there and most evident on Surface Pro. Please put it away (dump it).

  5. harrymyhre

    What’s the relationship like between Qualcomm and huawei?


    • wright_is

      In reply to Harrymyhre:

      Strained, because of the US sanctions. But Huawei "only" needs them for the LTE chipsets, they use their own Kyrin processors, for example. They still buy a huge number of chipset from Qualcomm though.

      This could change with 5G, as Huawei is ahead of Qualcomm, when it comes to the roll out of 5G technology, at least on the backend.

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