by Ashwin Venkatchari
Is Harmony OS Huawei’s solution to its growing dependency on the Android platform? Or is it the much touted ‘Plan B’ for its smartphone business that’s facing strong geo-political headwinds?
It is neither but a lot more. Let’s see what the Harmony OS really is.
According to Huawei, Harmony OS is “a micro-kernel based, distributed OS for all scenarios”. The fact that the Chinese tech giant had dedicated an entire event to its new operating system at the Huawei Developer Conference in 2019 is quite telling on the strategic nature of this OS for Huawei.
Let’s look at the bigger picture. Harmony OS is not an Android rival after all, it’s a rival for every smart OS that’s out there. The most telling phrase in the above tag line is “for all scenarios”.
Huawei talks about Harmony OS as being the next step in connecting people with the exciting and dynamic world of “connected things”. Huawei believes that with the dawn of 5G, the next biggest challenge is to provide a seamless inter-operability between the cloud, AI and IoT and in effect is successful in harnessing the immense potential that these technologies can offer.
Huawei claims that the Harmony OS can do just that; and that’s the reason why it has dubbed the Harmony OS as a new kind of OS. At the heart of Huawei’s vision for the Harmony OS is what it calls the “1+8+N” strategy. Where ‘1’ is the humble smartphones, a device that has become integral in everyone’s lives a device that connects us with our friends, families and beyond.
The ‘8’ represents the familiar colony of connected devices such as laptops, tablets, desktops, smartwatches, smart speakers etc. The ‘N’ represents the wider IoT category such as smart lighting, fridges, cameras, alarm systems etc.
In concept, the Huawei solution is simple. Make a secure OS that is decoupled from the hardware and that could work on all these devices. Though, the implementation of this concept is far from simple. However, the potential is numerous. The example Huawei presents is switching between these devices using a single app without any downtime.
Another presumed benefit is that the Harmony OS apps will only ever need to be written for a single platform thanks to its ARK compiler which supports multiple languages. Not only will this offer reduced development time overall, it will also offer compatibility across multiple devices without any extra workload. These benefits could be hugely beneficial for app developers.
Huawei already enjoys the infrastructure to match its ambitions. It already has a booming devices business, produces its own silicon chip, has a massive investment in cloud technology and is the leader in 5G deployment around the world. To showcase this ambition, last year Huawei has launched the first Harmony OS powered, consumer ready product, the Huawei Vision Smart TV, launched as the Honor Vision in China. The TV showcases some of the AI driven smart functionalities the Harmony OS promises.
Based on the roadmap showcased at HDC, Harmony OS’ rollout really starts to pick up in 2020 with smartwatches, smart bands, personal computers, vehicle head units etc. and in 2021 this could expand to speakers and other audio devices and beyond. From 2022, it’s going to be VR glasses and an even more diverse range of products and applications.
The biggest challenges that Huawei faces to ensure the success of Harmony OS is convincing the device manufacturers into switching to an entirely new ecosystem and, of course, the biggest headache everyone in the world is contending with at the moment – COVID-19 – and the economic recession that is widely expected as a result of this.