Do you think you live in a hyperconnected world? Huawei’s proprietary HarmonyOS aims to eliminate delays and gaps in the user experience when you switch from one device to another by adding interoperability to all devices, regardless of the system powering them.
Two years after Huawei was added to the US list of companies that banned the Chinese telecommunications giant from accessing US technologies, including core chipsets and Android developer services from Google, Huawei’s alternative smartphone operating system was unveiled.
Huawei officially presented its proprietary operating system HarmonyOS for mobile phones on Wednesday. The company began developing the operating system in 2016 and made it open source for tablets, electric vehicles and smartwatches last September. Its flagship devices such as the Mate 40 could be upgraded to HarmonyOS starting Wednesday, with the operating system gradually rolling out to lower models in the coming quarters.
HarmonyOS is not intended to replace Android or iOS, Huawei said. Rather, its application is broader and powers not only phones and tablets, but an increasing number of smart devices as well. To this end, Huawei has tried to attract hardware and home appliance manufacturers to its ecosystem.
To date, more than 500,000 developers have developed applications based on HarmonyOS. It’s unclear if Google, Facebook, and other mainstream apps in the West are working on HarmonyOS versions.
Some Chinese tech companies answered Huawei’s call. Smartphone maker Meizu hinted on its Weibo account that its smart devices could take over HarmonyOS. Oppo, Vivo, and Xiaomi, which are much bigger gamers than Meizu, are likely more reluctant to accept a competitor’s operating system.
Huawei’s goal is to combine all devices operated with HarmonyOS in a single control panel, which can, for example, link the Bluetooth connections of headphones and a television remotely. A game played on a phone can seamlessly continue on a tablet. A smart soy milk mixer can customize a drink based on health data from a user’s smartwatch.
Devices that are not yet installed on HarmonyOS can also communicate with Huawei devices with a simple plug-in. Photos from a Windows-powered laptop can be saved directly to a Huawei phone if the HarmonyOS plug-in is installed on the computer. This begs the question of whether Android or even iOS could one day communicate with HarmonyOS using a common language.
HarmonyOS was launched a few days before Apple’s annual developer event, scheduled for next week. A recent job posting from Apple mentioned a seemingly new concept, homeOS, which may have to do with Apple’s smart home strategy, as noted by Macrumors.
Huawei denied speculation that HarmonyOS was a derivative of Android, saying not a single line of code was identical to Android’s. A spokesman for Huawei didn’t want to say whether the operating system is based on Linux, the kernel that powers Android.
Several technology giants have tried unsuccessfully to introduce their own mobile operating systems. Alibaba built AliOS on a Linux basis, but has not updated it for a long time. Samsung has flirted with its own Tizen, but the operating system is limited to running a few Internet of Things like smart TVs.
Huawei could stand a better chance of piquing developer interest compared to its predecessors. It’s still one of China’s largest smartphone brands, although it lost some of its market after the U.S. government cut it off from critical chip suppliers, which could hinder its ability to make state-of-the-art phones. HarmonyOS also has the chance to create an alternative for developers who are dissatisfied with Android if Huawei is able to grasp their needs.
The US sanctions do not prevent Huawei from using the open source Android software that major Chinese smartphone manufacturers use to create their third-party Android operating system. But the ban was like a death knell for Huawei’s overseas hypermarkets as its phones lost access to Google Play services overseas.