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Highlights of Huawei's HarmonyOS, do we really need it?

Huawei Nova 5T
After months of unconfirmed and conflicting reports, Huawei made the HarmonyOS (HongMeng) official at the HDC 2019 in Dongguan, China and it seems to be more than just an Android competitor.
Highlights of Huawei's HarmonyOS, do we really need it?
An all-in-one OS

The OS of the future?

To recall, it is a new microkernel-based operating system designed to work on different devices such as smartphones, smartwatches, smart screens, in-vehicle systems, smart speakers.

In short, it is a distributed OS with adaptive technology to work on different screen layouts, controls, and more.

The other microkernel-based OS is from Google, the Google Fuchsia.

Huawei stated that this OS is a lightweight and compact operating system with powerful functionality. It is designed to could deliver a "cohesive user experience" across all devices and scenarios, thanks to its cross-platform capabilities.

Basically, it will allow developers to develop apps that can be deployed across a range of different devices.

Thanks to its own ARK compiler with compatibility for Java, C/C++, JS, Kotlin, and all programming languages.

Think of it as an OS with a modular design like the LEGO which makes it "easier" to develop and be distributed on different types of devices.

This flexibility should help Huawei achieve its goal of developing an OS that provides a seamless experience across different devices.

Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei's Consumer Business Group also stressed that "HarmonyOS is completely different from Android and iOS."

To further explain it, here are the technical highlights of the HarmonyOS as per Huawei.

4 technical highlights of HarmonyOS

A microkernel-based OS
A microkernel-based OS

1. Seamless - Huawei said that it is the first-ever device OS with a distributed architecture for a seamless experience on different devices.

By adopting distributed architecture and distributed virtual bus technology, HarmonyOS offers a shared communications platform, distributed data management, distributed task scheduling, and virtual peripherals. With HarmonyOS, app developers won't have to deal with the underlying technology for distributed apps, allowing them to focus on their own individual service logic. Developing distributed apps will be easier than ever before. Apps built on HarmonyOS can run on different devices while delivering a seamless, collaborative experience across all scenarios.

2. Smooth - HarmonyOS uses the "Deterministic Latency Engine and high-performance IPC" approach. 

HarmonyOS will address underperformance challenges with a Deterministic Latency Engine and high-performance Inter Process Communication (IPC). The Deterministic Latency Engine sets task execution priorities and time limits for scheduling in advance. Resources will gravitate toward tasks with higher priorities, reducing the response latency of apps by 25.7 percent. The microkernel can make IPC performance up to five times more efficient than existing systems.

It means that resources will be allocated to tasks with high priority in advance which then improves responsiveness by 25.7 percent. 

3. Secure - Huawei said that the new microkernel architecture is more secure than traditional means. There is no root access to HarmonyOS to add a layer of extra security as well.

HarmonyOS uses a brand-new microkernel design that features enhanced security and low latency. This 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 in a Trusted Execution Environment (TEE). Formal verification methods are an effective mathematical approach to validate system correctness from the source, while traditional verification methods, such as functional verification and attack simulation, are confined to limited scenarios. Formal methods, by contrast, can use data models to verify all software running paths.

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.

4. Unified - Multi-device IDE allows apps to be developed once and deployed across multiple devices

Powered by a multi-device IDE, multi-language unified compilation, and a distributed architecture kit, HarmonyOS can automatically adapt to different screen layout controls and interactions, 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. With a multi-device IDE, developers can code their apps once and deploy them across multiple devices, creating a tightly integrated ecosystem across all user devices.

The Huawei ARK Compiler is the first static compiler that can perform on par with Android's virtual machine, enabling developers to compile a broad range of advanced languages into machine code in a single, unified environment. By supporting unified compilation in multiple languages, the HUAWEI ARK Compiler will help developers greatly improve their productivity.

Huawei's HarmonyOS developer plan and ecosystem development

"Designed for future challenges"
"Designed for future challenges"

No OS is matured from day 1 and it will take time before it will be an OS with a rich app ecosystem. Also, a good OS with no apps is useless and Huawei knows that. 

So at the Huawei Developer Conference 2019, the company shared its roadmap. It revealed that the Harmony OS 1.0 will be first adopted smart screen products. 

In fact, Huawei's sub-brand HONOR has already unleashed the world's first device with HarmonyOS inside, the HONOR Vision TV series.

Over the next 3 years, HarmonyOS will be optimized and gradually adopted across a broader range of smart devices like wearables, Huawei Vision, and head units for your car.

To make it attractive to developers, Huawei will release HarmonyOS as an open-source platform, worldwide.

Huawei will also lay the foundations for HarmonyOS in the Chinese market and then expand it further to the global ecosystem. It will also capitalize on China's strong app ecosystem and a massive user base.

Huawei claimed that the new OS will bring "incredible new benefits" to consumers, equipment vendors, and developers.

For consumers, it is expected to bring a "cohesive and powerful intelligent experience across all aspects of their lives".

For equipment vendors, it should help them gain a "first-mover advantage in the age of holistic intelligent experience".

Overall, Huawei aims to establish a secured integrated and shared ecosystem across devices with great reliability.

This new OS has the potential to be the OS for multiple devices to the upcoming inevitable age of 5G.

When will we see HarmonyOS on phones?

Huawei's timeline showed that we are still 2 to 3 years away from the first HarmonyOS-powered smartphone.

But while Huawei still intends to use Android on their mobile phones, China's cloudy relationship with the US government might force them to use it sooner than planned of they are forced not to use Android.

Do we really need another OS?

For now no. But in the near future, there's a good chance that it could be yes.

If Huawei can make it the OS as good as they want it to be, then it could give Apple's iOS and Google's Android some serious competition.

And if iOS and Android will be matched or bested by HarmonyOS, it will surely push them to do better to avoid losing market share.

If that's the case, it could be a win-win situation for everyone.

For us, it is about time to have a new OS that can compete with Android and iOS.

It won't be easy. Even a company as big as Microsoft failed against Android and iOS in the mobile OS wars.

But, if what Huawei really planned is true, there's a good chance. Personally, I'm rooting for it to succeed. 

Could HarmonyOS (HongMeng) be the all-around OS of the future?

Only time will tell.

See also: Why Huawei released the HarmonyOS?

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