HarmonyOS Explained: A Viable Future Android Competitor or a Futile Attempt From Huawei?


During the annual Huawei developer conference, the company officially unveiled its custom HarmonyOS intended to create a unified ecosystem for potentially millions of users. Of course, this isn’t going to be as simple as churning out improved and feature-enriched versions of its Kirin chipsets for smartphones and tablets, so Huawei intends on taking its time with what could be a viable Android competitor, even though it hasn’t been marketed as such. Here we explain what is HarmonyOS, its unique feature set, and if it has the potential to somehow squirm its way in the duopoly iOS and Android have created for themselves.

The Nature of HarmonyOS and How It Works

Known as HongMeng OS in China, Huawei states that HarmonyOS is a microkernel-based open source operating system. What this means is that the software features a bare-minimum of functions required to make an OS, and since it will be freely available, it can be modified accordingly. However, even Android is open source, but Google has imposed certain restrictions on phone and tablet manufacturers in return for running key applications and services.

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We’ll have to see if this is the level Huawei wants to operate on in the future, but for now, HarmonyOS is intended for products categorized under ‘Internet of Things’, according to a Huawei executive. Since it is based on a microkernel, there is less code to deal with, resulting in faster communication and significantly reduced latency between hardware components, hence it’s preference for IoT products. Perhaps its most attractive feature is having been designed to be used on several device types, which is why people are calling it a direct threat to Google’s rumored Fuchsia operating system.

Will It Help Huawei Reduce Its Dependency on Android?

As stated before, HarmonyOS is intended for IoT thanks to lower latency and improved performance. However, Huawei claims that while it wants to continue working with Google when it comes to Android, the Chinese giant’s custom operating system can be used with a variety of devices. That being said, HarmonyOS will initially not be available for smartphones, but Richard Yu stated that if Huawei was forced to make the move, the company would only need a couple of days to replace Android on its devices.

However, to make HarmonyOS a viable Android alternative, let alone a replacement, an app ecosystem needs to exist, which we believe Huawei would have thought of before jumping on this ambitious project. Unfortunately, Android apps are not compatible on HarmonyOS by default, but it has been designed such that by using the Huawei ARK open source compiler, developers will be able to transfer those apps to the operating system.

Earlier, Huawei’s founder admitted that HarmonyOS cannot grow without an app ecosystem, which is why the company is already busy with a Google Play Store replacement. It’s own App Store is called Huawei AppGallery, with developers being asked to publish their Android apps through its own App Store. Additionally, the Chinese giant is reportedly working on an alternative to Google Maps, suggesting that while it fully intends to use Android for the long term, it wants to have a competitive solution of its own in case it gets placed in a dodgy position.

The Map Kit is expected to be unveiled in October and is reported to cover 150 countries while being available in 40 languages.

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Security Promises?

Huawei has been the subject of controversy when it comes to cyber espionage so giving users the utmost satisfaction and confidence in terms of security will be paramount. Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s consumer division stated that HarmonyOS is more secure and powerful than Android, with its IPC performance being five times that of Fuchsia.

However, this statement was not backed with any statistical proof. For tweakers, there’s bad news because Huawei confirmed such users won’t be getting root access as it can result in a massive security breach. Rooting an Android device, as most of you know, poses a major risk for users, as well as other Linux-based operating systems.

Future Products in the Pipeline That Will Make Use of HarmonyOS?

After unveiling the Honor Vision and Honor Vision Pro, two smart TVs running Huawei’s custom operating system, the company plans to launch a smartwatch running the same OS. This suggests that smartphones running HarmonyOS isn’t a priority of Huawei, possibly thanks to the strata of Android, the trust and dependence million of users show for the operating system, and perhaps the manufacturer doesn’t want to tarnish its relationship with Google for the time being.

However, the technology giant has said that because developers can seamlessly deploy HarmonyOS across various devices ranging from smart displays, wearables, and in-car systems, there are a lot of products and services Huawei intends on showcasing in the near and distant future.

Our gut feeling is that this is just the start of something very exciting. Sadly, these products will initially witness a launch in China, a region where millions of its user don’t depend on Google’s apps and services, making it the ideal testing ground for HarmonyOS. Huawei’s sub-brand Honor hasn’t confirmed if its latest smart TV duo will be available overseas, meaning that a lot of these products will be exclusive to China at first. Huawei does state that some HarmonyOS features have been incorporated in its EMUI 10 update so users can get a first-hand experience related to the company’s efforts.

So can it succeed? With its official unveiling taking place on just August 9, it’s too early to comment on the potential success of HarmonyOS. We’ll admit that no one would have suspected Huawei to become such a dominant force in the smartphone business and its rapid 5G deployment efforts are second to none. This wave of success will compel anyone to place their bets on Huawei, but a custom operating system is a different ball game altogether. For now, the cogs are in place, with HarmonyOS’ biggest strength is the ability to provide a seamless ecosystem across multiple devices.

Its biggest weakness; a non-existent app ecosystem. How quickly Huawei attempts to turn this into an Android competitor is an answer only time can tell. For now, HarmonyOS and its slew of features appear very promising.