As rumoured, the software will be known as HarmonyOS in Western markets and Hongmeng in China. According to Huawei Central, the OS has been in development since 2012, motivated by bubbling tensions with the US over accusations of trade theft and violation of trade sanctions applied to Iran.
Speaking at the Huawei developer conference, Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s consumer division, said that the OS had been in development since 2017.
In May 2019, US President Donald Trump added Huawei to the ‘Entity List’ by executive order, preventing US companies from working with Huawei without a license. Longtime Huawei partners such as Google and Intel (as well as chipmaker ARM in the UK) were forced to put their work on hold, leading to speculation that Huawei may consider alternatives to Google’s Android OS for future mobile handsets. Huawei’s HiSilicon Technologies unit, which designs core processor chips and other key components, had previously hinted at setting up contingency plans for such circumstances.
Although tensions between the US Government and Huawei have since eased, the company will want its consumer devices to be able to be manufactured and to function fully without the support of US tech companies if necessity dictates in the future.
According to Huawei, Harmony is a microkernel-based distribued OS (like Google’s Fuschia) which can be integrated into IoT devices as well as smartphones, such as wearables, virtual reality glasses, smart speakers and even in-vehicle systems. The company hopes this will encourage customers to build a shared system across a user’s devices.
The OS will initially be incorporated into products for the Chinese market before expanding to other markets. It will be launched first on ‘smart screen’ devices like the Honor Smart Screen – due to be unveiled later this week – before being rolled out to other devices over the next three years. Reuters previously reported that Harmony would also appear on a series of Honor smart TV sets.
Harmony will be released as an open-source platform worldwide in order to encourage adoption. It is unclear as yet how widely HarmonyOS will be adopted in Western markets already familiar with the iOS-Android duopoly.
In a statement following the announcement at the Huawei developer conference, Huawei confirmed that “for the time being” it would continue to use Android on its smartphones.
Yu said that HarmonyOS was “completely different” to iOS and Android due to its scaling capabilities: “You can develop your apps once, then flexibly deploy them across a range of different devices.”
Yu also claimed that HarmonyOS was smaller, faster and safer than iOS and Android: the lack of root access is likely to offer some protection from external manipulation.