Huawei announces HarmonyOS, makes no mention of when we can see it on its smartphones

That Huawei has been hard at work on its own operating system hasn’t been a well-kept secret. We have known about this for a while and matters were accelerated this year when the US government’s aggression turned to it resulting in a temporary ban on the company’s access to Android.

In a carefully-worded statement sent earlier today, Huawei points out that the new operating system it has announced today at its ongoing developer conference, will at first be available on the company’s smart devices like smartwatches, smart screens, in-vehicle systems, and smart speakers – all of which remain unreleased.

For many, the decision to block the company from having its devices licensed by Google to run its mobile operating system and popular applications like the Chrome browser, YouTube, Google Maps and others, triggered by the blacklisting by the US government, meant that the company would shift to its own platform. In the short term, at least going by today’s announcement, that is not exactly the case. In fact, if anything, Huawei took the same stage to announce EMUI 10, the latest iteration of its Android overlay.

Much as that is so (and the company has been preparing us for this announcement for a while now given what its senior executives have been saying), it should not be lost on any of us what the end goal is. What happens when all of the company’s smart devices, bar smartphones and tablets, run on its in-house platform and are successful/a hit with consumers around the world?

While Huawei is keen to point out that Harmony OS, as its new operating system is known as, is very different from Android and iOS, the two dominant mobile platforms used in smart devices, especially phones, today, it does share some similarities even though it is its unique qualities that may turn out to be the pillars of its success in the future.

Like Android, Harmony OS is open source. This means that the platform will be open to developers around the world to contribute to and grow. Just like Android. The extent of the open nature of the platform is hard to talk about at this early stage but that should be interesting to follow over the next few months.

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In the press statement sent to us, the company notes that to foster the kind of collaboration it envisions as a result, it will also “establish an open-source foundation and an open-source community to support more in-depth collaboration with developers.”

Part of the advantage that Harmony OS has, by launching at this time (though Huawei says that it’s been in the works for the past decade) is that we have a good idea of where the world is headed, something that wasn’t much more foreseeable in the early days of both Android and iOS. Both platforms have struggled to accommodate new devices, especially Internet of Things devices.

Android has an offshoot, Android Things for most of those, a variation, Android TV, for our big screens and yet another variation, Android Auto, to make the communication between user’s smartphones and the infotainment systems in their cars seamless (Apple also has its equivalents). It is in the wearables space, however, where Android’s failure to dominate is most visible. Google’s Wear OS, previously known as Android Wear, has failed to penetrate the market in the same way that Apple’s Watch OS (which runs on rather expensive hardware) has. In fact, if anything, the platform’s top two brands, Samsung and Huawei, don’t use it on any of their latest wearable releases. Don’t get me started on Fuchsia.

Harmony OS is made to do all those things from the get-go and play nice with anything and everything that comes its way. In fact, Huawei makes quite the deal about Harmony OS’s “distributed OS” nature that it is pitching it to developers as a simple solution that won’t have them tuning their apps for the various devices they are run on (code once, deploy everywhere).

On the security front, Huawei assures us that things are all good, thanks to its microkernel architecture and other safeguards it has deployed. The same is being fronted about the new operating system’s performance credentials, just like we’ve heard before.

So, why else should we care about Harmony OS?

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“Harmony OS will bring incredible new benefits to consumers, equipment vendors, and developers. For consumers, it will bring a cohesive and powerful intelligent experience across all aspects of their lives. For equipment vendors, it will help them gain a first-mover advantage in the age of holistic intelligent experience, where 5G, AI, and IoT will see explosive growth. At the same time, Harmony OS will enable developers to win over more users with less investment, and rapidly innovate services across all scenarios,” the statement adds.

Even though Huawei is being guarded about Harmony OS’s future, which is okay since they are just starting out, at least publicly, that the platform is ready for any kind of device including smartphones and tablets on top of the one stated earlier gives us a glimpse of the scope of the company’s ambition and determination to not be set back in the future (Harmony OS is ready for use on smartphones, by the way).

The company it plays second fiddle to both in the Android world and globally as far as mobile devices go, Samsung, is known for using its own in-house (also open source) platform, Tizen, on everything it makes and sells bar its smartphones and tablets. Will Huawei be the first to mount an aggressive go-to-market strategy with its own platform to take on Android and iOS in the one market that their dominance remains unquestioned?

By the way, those “ARK OS” trademark filings we’ve previously reported on are in reference to Harmony OS’s compiler.

According to Huawei’s own roadmap, Harmony OS is expected to be mature enough to run on virtual reality (VR) glasses by the year 2022.

Have something that you believe I need to have a look at? Hit me up: echenze [at] androidkenya.com