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Huawei Unveils Harmony, a Potential Android Substitute

Robert Clark
News Analysis
Robert Clark
8/9/2019
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Huawei today launched its much-anticipated device OS, Harmony, which it says can replace Android if needed.

Harmony was originally due for release in the third quarter of next year, but development was accelerated following the US ban that could prevent Huawei phones from carrying the Android OS.

Huawei announced the new system at its annual developer conference in Dongguan, southern China, on Friday.

"Harmony OS is a lightweight, compact operating system with powerful functionality, and it will first be used for smart devices like smart watches, smart screens, in-vehicle systems, and smart speakers," it said.

The first Harmony product, the Honor Vision smart screen, will debut at the conference tomorrow.

Richard Yu, CEO of the Huawei consumer business group, said Harmony OS was "completely different" from Android and iOS.

Instead of providing high functionality on a single smartphone, it was intended to support "seamless collaboration across devices."

"It is a microkernel-based, distributed OS that delivers a smooth experience across all scenarios.

"You can develop your apps once, then flexibly deploy them across a range of different devices."

Huawei says the distributed architecture and micro-kernel design brought lower latency and better performance and security than Android.

Analysts point out that Harmony appears much closer to Google's Fuschia -- a software project still in the pipeline that is also microkernel-based and intended to run on multiple devices -- than a handset OS.

But since Huawei was placed on a US government blacklist, its nascent OS (previously known in English as Hongmeng) has attracted wide speculation as a possible Android substitute.

The system has been under development since 2017, Huawei says.

Under the blacklist, its current phones can carry Android, but it is not clear if that OS will be allowed to run on future devices.

In recent weeks, executives have tried to tamp down expectations by asserting that Harmony's initial focus was IoT devices, not smartphones.

That appears to be borne out by today's launch.


For all the latest news from the wireless networking and services sector, check out our dedicated Mobile content channel here on Light Reading.


Yu also reiterated the company's view that it preferred to go with Android for phones and tablets because of its huge ecosystem. (See Huawei Defies US Ban With 23% Lift in H1 Revenue.)

But "of course" the new OS could be used in phones, he said. "Everyone asks me when can we use it, and I say it is available at any time."

"We support the Google Android ecosystem, and give priority to the Android OS," he said. But if Android is not available "we can use our Harmony OS at any time."

Thanks to the Huawei Ark compiler released early this year, developers could easily adapt their apps to Harmony, Yu said.

But the technical fix is just one part of the solution. As Yu suggests, the bigger question is about being part of a larger community of developers, apps and partners.

CCS Insight's Geoff Blaber has noted that companies as capable as Microsoft and Amazon have taken and failed the OS challenge.

"An ecosystem is defined by a healthy diversity of participants. Without access to Google's Play store or long list of apps and services, Huawei's competitiveness is hamstrung. Creating alternatives isn't that simple outside China."

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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