Huawei's Harmony OS: What You Should Know

This week, Huawei announced that it would be debuting its operating system, HarmonyOS, on its phones this June. The name HarmonyOS has been around for a while now, almost two years. But the concept of a new operating system spearheaded by Huawei has been around for longer. Initially called Hongmeng OS, Huawei’s operating system is supposed to serve as a reply to Android OS and Google Services.

The origin of this goes back to 2019, when Huawei received a series of sanctions from the US, for allegedly spying on people with their device. Part of the restrictions included discontinued access to Google Mobile Services, such as the Play Store, Gmail, and more. Huawei could still and still uses the Android OS on their devices, but it does not come with the usual Google Play Store, Gmail, and Google Maps that Android users are used to. Huawei instead uses its version of an app store along with similar apps to make up for the gap. But nobody likes that. In as much as Huawei makes some of the best Android devices out there, the lack of full Google support is a drawback. It makes the phone feel and look less authentic. Harmony OS is the perfect solution to that problem. Or is it?

With Harmony OS, Huawei has full control over the operation of their phones, including what’s available on them, such as the apps and other services. They no longer have to rely on Google or Android for anything. It’s something different, just like Apple’s iOS. Although tech experts have said that Harmony OS is built on Android, Huawei has strongly denied it. Here’s a quote from Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s Consumer Business Group; “HarmonyOS is completely different from Android and iOS. It is a microkernel-based, distributed OS that delivers a smooth experience across all scenarios. It has a trustworthy and secure architecture, and it supports seamless collaboration across devices. You can develop your apps once, then flexibly deploy them across a range of different devices.” So, there you have it - Harmony OS is different from Android OS.

Having its OS means that Huawei would finally score some points with its devices, including

1. Better Optimisation

One of the things that give iPhones an edge over Android phones with even better specs is the level of optimisation they enjoy. When the hardware and software are made by the same manufacturer, the device operates better because the software would take full advantage of the hardware and Vice versa. Huawei would be able to tailor its OS to meet up the specifications of its devices, allowing it to run smoother and better. In other words, Huawei phones with Harmony OS would perform better than Huawei phones running Android OS.

2. Better Features 

Huawei devices come with some of the best hardware specifications on the planet. From the RAM to the camera hardware, everything is completely maxed out, especially on their P and Mate series. With such hardware specs, there is a lot the devices could be able to do that we do not get to see, unfortunately. This is usually because the Android OS may not allow that at the moment. This is also not Android’s fault because they have to cater to a range of devices with varying specs and capabilities. But with Harmony OS, Huawei can include better features in their phones that would complement both the hardware and software.

3. Better Security

Huawei phones would be more secure now with Harmony OS. According to Huawei Central; “HarmonyOS is the first OS to use formal verification in device TEE, significantly improving security. In addition, because the HarmonyOS microkernel has much less code (roughly one-thousandth the amount of the Linux kernel), the probability of an attack is greatly reduced.” They would also receive timely updates and bug fixes because everything would now be under Huawei’s control.

4. Refined Ecosystem

The hallmark of Harmony OS is the ecosystem functionality. According to TechRadar, “By taking a 'single kernel across devices approach', Huawei also aims to create a shared ecosystem of different devices, breakthrough silos and in turn save developers time. One app can be deployed across a car head unit, smartwatch, fitness tracker, and speaker, working perfectly.” In simple English, the same app that works on your phone would work on your laptop, your smartwatch, your car, and so on. This means you can start something on your phone, continue it in your car, and finish it with your watch. Talk about connectivity.

But could this be Huawei’s saving grace? Will Harmony OS restore Huawei’s reputation as one of the best device makers in the world? Huawei might face some challenges with their new OS, including

1. Getting People To Switch

The world seems pretty comfortable with Android and iOS as the two operating systems for mobile devices. This bipolarity is not something that would fade away soon as it would be hard to convince people to give up their current devices. No matter how good Huawei claims Harmony OS is, it may not be good enough for people to dump their current OS for, and this is not Huawei’s fault. People are just wired like that.

2. Trust

Huawei’s biggest issue is not exactly the apps or OS, but trust. Many people do not trust Huawei enough because it’s a China phone, and this has nothing to do with quality, but more about the kind of country China is. US’s issue with Huawei stemmed from the fact that Huawei was allegedly spying on US citizens on behalf of the Chinese Government. Of course, Huawei denied this and said they would never spy even if they were asked to. But the distrust is already there. People would be less inclined to patronise a device that has been accused of spying on people. Who knows what they might do with your data? So, besides the OS, Huawei has a lot of trust-building to do.

All in all, it would be very refreshing to see a new player in the OS game. This was bound to happen at some point anyway. With Harmony OS, Huawei is taking a bold step and if it pays off, other companies like Samsung and Xiaomi might follow suit. But only the future can reveal how well Huawei would succeed.

On June 2, we welcome Harmony OS, the new kid on the block.