In Dongguan, China, at the Huawei Developers’ Conference, Huawei executives revealed the company’s plans for the future. Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s Business Group, quickly unveiled the new Huawei operating system, called Harmony OS (called Hongmeng in China but not overseas).
Harmony is not a mobile phone system to replace Android but rather is designed to work on devices from tablets to phones, smartwatches to cars and much else besides. And one other key thing: it’s open-source. This last fact gave rise to the biggest cheer in the basketball stadium Huawei had taken over for the event.
It means that Harmony can be adopted by third-party manufacturers who want to ensure their Internet of Things devices can talk to others.
While it’s been confirmed that current devices such as the Huawei P30 Pro will be able to receive the next version of Google’s phone operating system, Android Q, it’s not clear yet what will happen to future devices.
So, developing a new operating system that doesn’t rely on American software could be a wise way for the company to be prepared while sanctions from the U.S. government are still in place.
Still, Huawei is very clear that it doesn’t want to abandon Android, saying it wanted to keep working with its American partners. Switching to Harmony would only happen if Huawei was forbidden to use Android. Richard Yu said that leaving Android behind was very much Plan B.
For instance, the next big announcement from the company will be the Mate 30 Pro. Yu said it’s not certain that it will be allowed to run on Android, but that is the hope. If not, then Harmony will be used instead. Since the Huawei Mate 30 is due within the next two months, meaning Yu’s announcement will offer some intriguing possibilities about what’s coming next.
Yu said, “We can implement Harmony any time,” and indicated that it is ready now. So ready, in fact, that it can be put in place within “a couple of days”.
Dr. Wang Chenglu, President of Consumer Business Software, agreed, saying that if a switch to Harmony was required, then the new OS could be rolled out in a matter of “one to two days”.
In fact, some parts of Harmony OS are already to be found in the most recent Huawei phones. The microkernel – a small piece of software – that is at the heart of the new OS, is currently used exclusively in the Trusted Execution Environment where the biometrics are stored.
Huawei has talked up the new operating system for its excellence. Its distributed capabilities mean, according to Dr. Wang, that it can outdo both Android and iOS in terms of power consumption and performance.
So why, in that case, wouldn’t Huawei put it on its phones, too, if it’s so superior? The answer is obvious, it would make it hard, if not impossible, to sell it pretty much anywhere outside China.
So maybe Huawei’s strategy is clever: put Harmony on a smart TV, a smartwatch, a tablet or even a laptop and let people get used to it. Then, when it’s familiar and everyone’s enjoying it, why not release it on phones, too? Huawei is hoping that’s not going to be necessary but is determined to be ready if it is.