Huawei embarks on the long march towards a cross-platform OS

via Flickr © Janitors (CC BY 2.0)

via Flickr © Janitors (CC BY 2.0)

  • Smartphone vendor jumps before it’s finally pushed
  • Has announced a new and ambitious crossplatform operating system
  • Will start with smart screen products and the China market

Yesterday we touched on the likelihood that Huawei was hatching its own operating system to replace Android. (see - Google challenged over links with Huawei smart speaker project).

Today the detail arrived with the news that Huawei has launched Harmony OS at its Developer Conference, describing it as a new ‘distributed operating system’. 

It’s clear that Huawei doesn’t simply want to produce another old school OS, but to use the inevitable dislocation involved in being forced off Android by Trump’s trade war, to try and leapfrog the current technology and emerge with something which, in the fullness of time, might actually be better. That’s the ambition. Can Huawei pull it off? 

It can certainly come up with a new OS

HarmonyOS is described as a new microkernel-based, distributed operating system designed to deliver a cohesive user experience across all devices and scenarios. So Huawei wants to build a cross-platform environment that could be applied to a broad range of devices while at the same time meeting consumer demands for low latency and strong security. 

Of course it does. That is also the ambition of Microsoft, Google and Apple, all steering their user device ecosystems toward improved cross platform operation. Google itself has spent several years and multiple missed targets trying to get its Chrome OS platform to run Android (for instance). The technical trade-offs means that it’s harder than it sounds. 

Huawei says HarmonyOS will first be used for smart devices like smart watches, smart screens, in-vehicle systems, and smart speakers. Through this implementation Huawei aims to establish an integrated and shared ecosystem across devices, create a secure and reliable runtime environment, and deliver a holistic intelligent experience across every interaction with every device.  

HarmonyOS has four distinct  features 

1. Seamlessness: By adopting a distributed architecture and distributed virtual bus technology, HarmonyOS offers a shared communications platform, distributed data management, distributed task scheduling, and virtual peripherals. Consequently, Huawei claims, app developers won’t have to deal with the underlying technology for distributed apps, meaning they can focus on their own service logic 

2.  Determinism: It will sport a Deterministic Latency Engine with Inter Process Communication (IPC). This approach sets task execution priorities and time limits for scheduling in advance. Resources then gravitate toward tasks with higher priorities, reducing the response latency of apps by about a quarter, it’s claimed. The microkernel can make IPC performance up to five times more efficient than existing systems.

3. Security: The microkernel was designed to simplify kernel functions, implement as many system services as possible in user mode outside the kernel, and add mutual security protection. The microkernel itself provides only the most basic services like thread scheduling and IPC. Harmony OS’s microkernel design uses ‘formal verification’ methods to reshape security and trustworthiness from the ground up.  Also, because the HarmonyOS microkernel has much less code (roughly one-thousandth the amount of the Linux kernel), the probability of attack is greatly reduced.

4. Unification: Multi-device IDE allows apps to be developed once and deployed across multiple devices. The OS can automatically adapt to different screen layout controls and interactions, it’s claimed, and support both drag-and-drop control and preview-oriented visual programming. This allows developers to more efficiently build apps that run on multiple devices. Developers can code their apps once and deploy them across multiple devices, creating a tightly integrated ecosystem.

Stage One

Huawei HarmonyOS 1.0 will first be adopted in its smart screen products, which are due to launch later this year. Then over the next three years it will be optimized and gradually adopted across a broader range of smart devices, including wearables, HUAWEI Vision, and head units for cars.

Technology is just one thing  - the success of any OS at this stage of industry development depends on how well (if at all) the vendor can catalyse an ecosystem of users, apps and developers along with industry partners and distributors, as several very large companies, such as Microsoft,  have found out to their cost.

Not wanting to emulate Microsoft’s mobile OS disaster(s), Huawei will release HarmonyOS as an open-source platform, worldwide. It says it will also establish an open-source foundation and an open- source community to support more in-depth collaboration with developers.

The idea is to lay foundations for HarmonyOS in the Chinese market and then expand it further to the global ecosystem. To get that moving Huawei says it will open up and share its core capabilities in areas like connectivity, cameras, and AI.

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