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.
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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.