What is Huawei Harmony OS and Its Roadmap

Thanks to Huawei for the invite, I got to know more about their new HarmonyOS (or is it not) via Mr. James Lu, the Head of AI product management, Software Engineering Department of the Huawei Consumer Business Group.

In the event, Mr. James Lu walked through with the media curated information on what is HarmonyOS and its roadmap. And if I remembered correctly, Singapore is the first outside of China to be briefed on it.

Mr. James Lu

The first thing to note, Huawei HarmonyOS is NOT a replacement for Android, according to Huawei (and you will understand as you read on). And this statement is not the first time Huawei mentions it.

Below are slides from the presentation that I managed to capture using the “document” feature on my HUAWEI P30 Pro (and enhanced via editing software).

If you have seen or attended the HDC (Huawei Developer Conference) in August, these slides are similar except that they are now in English.

Here are links if you want to skip to the portion you want:

Introduction

Huawei has a 1+8+N strategy. “1” represents the smartphones, “8” represents Huawei’s own products and “N” represents the partners using their ecosystem. With the strategy, it seems that Huawei is reaching out to every device, including the TV set.

AI (Artificial Intelligence) is everywhere. Huawei has been using it for some time already. Based on the information, Huawei wants to become the leader in delivering “intelligent experiences across all scenarios” in the connected world.

OS and Kernel

Now, the more interesting part of the presentation starts here. Can our current OS address future challenges?

As you may know, Android is based on Linux Kernel and currently, the codes are getting insanely large (100 million lines of code in Android).

And because devices start to talk to one another, security becomes a concern.

With different devices and different OSes, seamless experiences across devices become a challenge.

HarmonyOS and microKernel

Huawei envisioned a “future-oriented OS” that can solve the issue and that OS is non-other than HarmonyOS.

From my short understanding of the HarmonyOS, it is like a modular OS where the devices only use what they need.

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For example, a speaker may not need a camera OS module and wearable service may need a phone module.

It is like Lego, as what Huawei describes to us. So, even though all devices are talking the same language, they are packed differently based on usage and hence, more efficient.

This slide below might be difficult to understand. I will try to use an example in my simple language to explain.

Imagine a room that has a TV set, a smartphone, smart speakers, an in-door drone.

In the future, you might want to make full use of the hardware around you. You might use your smartphone to make a 5G video call, the speakers to project the sound, the TV to watch the other party and the drone to follow you around to film you.

This scenario, described to us by Huawei, is possible if the OS has the capability of such seamless collaboration across devices.

The HarmonyOS is designed to support this.

By now, some of us (from the media) are trying to grasp the terms used in the presentation but I guess a picture speaks a thousand words.

Huawei HarmonyOS tries to simplify such communication for maximum efficiency.

These results in low latency (short delays), high throughput and high reliability.

This part is on Kernel. If you already know, Android is based on Linux Kernel while HarmonyOS is based on microKernel.

The slide shows that Android is based on Linux kernel’s scheduling mechanism. Linux is based on technology for servers. Therefore, scheduling, at that time, is not so important. But using it now will diminish the user experience.

By knowing when you need the resources and allocating them at the right time (precise resource), it will provide a better user experience. This is what Huawei is going to achieve.

If you Google Microkernel, TEE, formal verification, they are not new. The following few slides indicate the merit of using Microkernel for TEE using formal verification methods to enhance security.

So, HarmonyOS, which is based on microkernel, has the flexibility to be used on various types of devices and at the same time, improving the device security in various scenarios.

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This is an interesting slide to show the future HarmonyOS architecture. If you can see clearly, the current architecture is based on Linux Kernel, HarmonyOS microkernel, and LiteOS. In the future, it will just be HarmonyOS microkernel.

If HarmonyOS is used, rooting a device might be a thing of the past. In HarmonyOS, modules are secured individually. Think of it that current Android OS is a big house with a single key to access all the rooms. The HarmonyOS is like a hotel. The lobby is a common area for all. Each room has its key and you cannot enter easily.

These few slides might be honey to developers. In the current OS environment, due to different devices or even the similar devices with different sizes, there are needs to develop multiple apps.

With IDE (Integrated Development Environment), the app needs to be developed once and distributed across all devices.

Here is an example. A media player app adapts itself to different conditions on different devices. For example, you are not supposed to read the lyrics while driving. This lyrics module is omitted when played on a car HUD.

And how are developers going to do that? HUAWEI ARK Compiler is the answer. It will support a unified compilation of multiple software languages – C/C++, Java, JS, Kotlin, etc)

In short, Huawei will help developers to shorten their time to adapt their current apps to HarmonyOS.

HarmonyOS Roadmap

We have come to the final slide. This the history and roadmap of the HarmonyOS. If you look carefully, there is no mention of smartphones in its roadmap. Huawei explains that they would like to continue to use Android for as long as possible. In the event that they are not able to use it, they can implement HarmonyOS as a replacement since EMUI 10 is already adaptable to HarmonyOS (don’t quote my words as I have a difficult time to understand all the technical jargons during the presentation).

Someone from the media asked if the next flagship phone will be using the HarmonyOS, and the answer is…. please wait for the official announcement. No luck in trying to fish out the details.

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And back to the initial statement that HarmonyOS is not an Android replacement. Huawei briefly explained that if HarmonyOS is to replace Android, it will fail.

Looking back at the history of new OSes, I don’t think it is difficult to understand why (think BlackBerry, Windows Phone).

HarmonyOS is trying to solve a current problem that Android has not been able to solve. Looking at the trend, future devices will or must communicate with one another. With current situation, new OSes for new categories of devices need to be developed to talk to one another.

HarmonyOS is supposedly to use only one OS to communicate with all devices. This is something Huawei wants to achieve.

Finally, in the presentation, James Lu mentioned that the reason why Apple iOS is able to survive is that it makes something that other OSes (at that time) cannot achieve – Multi-touch.

So, HarmonyOS is here to unify all OSes into one for all devices that currently, no other OSes can do.

Summary

It is still early to fully understand HarmonyOS. I envisioned HarmonyOS as a digital Utility Knife where you can pull out the thing (knife, cap opener) when you need it. It will be versatile enough to withstand future development in IoT.

However, without a physical product that I can see and understand, I am careful not to place high hopes on it yet. Let us monitor the situation together. What is your thoughts on it?