Huawei unveiled its own operating system (OS) at the Huawei Developer Conference on August 9, 2019. Richard Yu, CEO of the Consumer Business Group at Huawei, introduced the HarmonyOS, the first microkernel-based distributed operating system that can be used on smartphones, tablets, PCs, wearable devices, smart home gadgets, and more. The first product to feature the HarmonyOS is the Honor Smart Screen TV, launched on August 10.
In May, the U.S. banned companies from selling hardware or software to Huawei. In theory, the ban cut off new Huawei phones from Google services and Android, which has in turn led to a drop in sales in overseas markets. Some analysts consider the Harmony OS Huawei’s strategic response to the current China-U.S. tensions. However, the operating system has been in development for several years. “It is not a rival or alternative to Android, which was designed primarily for smartphones and tablets,” Yu said, “but an operating system designed to connect different devices.”
Nowadays, different hardware uses different operating systems. In the era of IoT, more and more smart devices will be developed. It is impossible to develop different operating systems for each type of hardware, as the process is both time consuming and complex. Furthermore, building incompatible systems will hinder development of the connected IoT ecosystems of the future. Huawei hopes to take the lead in creating flexible microkernel operating systems.
However, Huawei is not the only company developing its own microkernel OS for commercial use. Google has been working on Fuchsia, its own microkernel OS, but did not reveal many details on the project until recently. Finally, in May, Senior Vice President for Android and Chrome Hiroshi Lockheimer opened up about Fuchsia, telling the public that it is not a new Android or Chrome OS but a system that can be incorporated into other products.
Microkernel OS certainly have a few advantages over monolithic OS because of their distinctive structure. The user services, or applications, are isolated from kernel services. Thus, microkernel OS are more secure and stable, and single user service failures do not affect the kernel or other applications. According to Huawei, HarmonyOS safeguards each application separately, contributing to improved user protections. On the contrary, if an Android system is rooted, its main security functions disappear. Another advantage is the size of source code. Microkernels are often smaller than monolithic kernels, such as Linux, which is the foundation of Android. Having less code enables the microkernel OS to function smoothly on many small IoT devices. It also means the OS have fewer bugs.
Yu has made it clear that Huawei will make developers’ jobs easier, as the same code can be adapted to different platforms; A developer does not need to worry about how a music player fits into different display channels. HarmonyOS will help optimize displays for TVs, watches, phones, tablets, smart mirrors, and car control panels, among other gadgets.
As Lockheimer said, Android was designed to be used with smartphones, and Huawei’s phones will continue to support Android’s OS for as long as they can. But if the trade war makes Huawei switch over to HarmonyOS on its phones, it will be easy to make the change, according to Yu. Through its new operating systems, Huawei has a chance to revolutionize the Chinese IoT industry. As time goes by, technological advancements will allow the company to incorporate more devices into its ecosystem.
(Top photo from Baidu Images)