back to article Go Huawei, Android: Chinese telco biz claims it will spread Harmony OS for smartphone to devs come December

After years of speculation, Huawei has confirmed it will release the homegrown Harmony operating system for smartphones, theoretically posing a direct challenge to the enduring Android and iOS duopoly. The threat confirmation came from Huawei’s Consumer Business Group head Richard Yu, who was speaking at the firm’s virtual …

  1. arctic_haze

    The biggest problem

    I do not know how they plan to achieve the critical mass of apps needed to convince users to choose the OS. Obviously many users will buy it being clueless about the availability of apps but most of them will become dissatisfied soon and make a gift out of the phone to an old uncle or someone other who uses no apps.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: The biggest problem

      There will almost certainly be some form of ABI for running Android apps with minimal additional overhead. No, the bigger problem may be sourcing chips, depending on who's prepared to provide ARM chips for them.

      But, China has the advantage that normally only the US has: the sheer size of the domestic market. Easy to imagine Harmony OS get mandated for mobile phones in China and then it only has to be "good enough".

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: The biggest problem

        "There will almost certainly be some form of ABI for running Android apps with minimal additional overhead."

        Uh, I really doubt that. They might have a few things they can do which increase compatibility, and their compiler will take the same set of languages, but they're ditching all the Android system APIs. If they're going to emulate it, they'll have to include a lot of duplicate APIs and implement what's effectively the thing they already have. Minimal overhead is tricky because we're layering system API calls on top of one another, but it's possible with concerted developer effort. If they do successfully implement this, there's no reason to develop for their OS, because someone could just develop for Android and run that. It also won't help in other markets, because they're not creating an alternative implementation of Google's GMS APIs.

        China won't mandate Harmony OS on local devices either. If they do, Huawei's happy. Xiaomi, Oppo, Realme, ZTE, TCL, and everyone else is unhappy. Unless Huawei really does have a very close relationship with the government, close enough that the government will voluntarily kill most of the domestic competition, it's not going to happen. Harmony will have to compete on its own merits. We'll have to wait and see what those will be.

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: The biggest problem

          Xiaomi, Oppo, Realme, ZTE, TCL, and everyone else is unhappy

          Doubt that: China is their biggest market and you probably don't realise how strong Chinese nationalism is.

          1. doublelayer Silver badge

            Re: The biggest problem

            That's exactly the point. All five of those examples are China-based. All compete with Huawei. This isn't a market where all the domestic players drift along in unity; they're constantly looking to improve upon their devices and increase their market share. And all five of them wouldn't want to adopt an operating system that gives a major market advantage to Huawei because Huawei has seen the code and they haven't. Chinese nationalism goes only so far. It will likely get the most popular Chinese apps ported to Harmony. It may convince people to buy Harmony phones even if the OS is worse than AOSP. It will not make all the other companies fall in line behind what is just another phone company. Huawei isn't the government, and the other phone manufacturers there are not slaves to what one company does.

          2. jelabarre59 Silver badge

            Re: The biggest problem

            Doubt that: China is their biggest market and you probably don't realise how strong enforced Chinese nationalism tyranny is.

            There, FTFY

      2. DS999

        Android compatibility would be a mistake

        If they do that, no one would ever develop any Harmony apps.

        They will have massive support from Chinese customers and the Chinese government to push devs to develop apps. They will only be worried about the Chinese market at first anyway, but once they have a critical mass of apps they need only do the localization to make them work in the rest of the world. Even if they are blocked from the west, China has been making inroads into Africa and South America, so Huawei will have a big market.

        Apple and Google might like seeing a third player show up, if only to make it less likely they are seen as exerting too much power in the smartphone market...

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: Android compatibility would be a mistake

          If they do that, no one would ever develop any Harmony apps.

          And where would be the harm in that? The big challenge will be providing drop-in replacements for the GMS stuff, but that should be doable.

          1. DS999

            Re: Android compatibility would be a mistake

            Why does everyone seem to think "drop in replacements for GMS stuff" is such an issue. CHINA HAS HAD THAT FOR YEARS!

            They are not running Google's Android, and never have been. They've always been using AOSP on phones sold in China, using home grown mapping/search (Baidu) and their own app stores. If they wanted to clone Android they wouldn't have to do anything - they've already got that.

        2. Graham Cobb Silver badge

          Re: Android compatibility would be a mistake

          I think they will acquire a commercial Dalvik to provide an Android app environment on their highest end Harmony devices, just to address the massive long tail of niche apps (for example for supply chain integration with millions of Western manufacturing companies).

          However, unlike other alternative OS's like Sailfish, their massive home market means Chinese apps for Chinese consumers will be created directly in Harmony and available in Huawei's appstore. So, they won't bother to provide an Android environment on 80% of devices (not least because the existing commercial Dalviks are, as far as I know, designed for Linux environments and may be expensive to port to a "minimal" OS).

          The interesting question is how many apps used by Western consumers will be available. Without their favourite apps (particularly games) sales will be low.

      3. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: The biggest problem

        > There will almost certainly be some form of ABI for running Android apps

        Isn't that what the QNX-based BB10 OS attempted to do? I seemed to recall reports that it did a fair job of it, though really BB10 was doomed for the reason the article highlights.

        Anyway, you shouldn't give a new mobile OS a name - you'll only grow attached.

        QNX is also a realtime microkernel OS, and has a far smaller footprint than any Unix-derived OS, making it suitable for IoT thingies upwards. It also has a rock solid 30 year history in mission critical industrial settings.

        There is actually a microkernel OS family running on billions of phones - Qualcomm use L4 in their modems, and Apple use the formally verified seL4 in their A series chips' secure enclaves.

      4. khjohansen

        Re: Sourcing [ARM] Chips

        Huawei uses HiSilicon Kirin - homegrown in the Middle Kingdom.

    2. arctic_haze

      Re: The biggest problem

      Am I the only one who sees signs of organized Kingdom of the Middle trolling here?

  2. mark l 2 Silver badge

    Unless Harmony OS has Android app compatibility then the lack of apps will put it in the viscous circle of no developers port their apps due to the lack of an install base and customers are dissatisfied with it due to the lack of apps. We have seen that exact problem with Windows phones and Blackberry, and Blackberry did have limited Android app support on their later phones.

    With its low hardware requirements Harmony OS could become a option for feature phones where the lack off apps isn't an issue, but what value will it have for manufactures to switch to that over using KaiOS which has gained good traction in that arena already.

    1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
      Holmes

      Ironically, the White House banning Huawei and other Chinese manufacturers from using Google will probably drive adoption of alternative platforms in China, resulting in a more vibrant ecosystem or at least creating a third platform out of necessity. Arguably, that seems like a good thing.

    2. DS999

      Lack of apps won't be a problem for long between Chinese patriotism and government support pushing devs to port their apps to Harmony.

  3. martinusher Silver badge

    Essential?

    "Essential applications like Google Maps, Gmail and Play Store"

    OK, I'll give you the Maps thing, its useful but its also not unique. Play Store is just an interface to the applications download area and Gmail, well, its just Gmail. Handy, but not exactly essential.

    The proboem with Google Mobile Services is that it really is thinly disguised spyware so Huawei building an alternative may well snag a large part of Google's market for 'analytics'. (There is a rumor going around that Google is experimenting with eavesdropping for keywords -- my daughter's not given to paraoia but she mentioned that people have noticed that some things they talk about have been turning up in adverts.) There's no guarantee that Huawei won't be as intrusive as the Google but there's always a chance because they probably don't need to be (its a bit like Amazon and their product software -- they don't need 7 of your 8 cores to try and figure out what you're looking for or buying because you're telling them every time you buy something).

    1. DS999

      Re: Essential?

      Google never had the Chinese market - they have always used AOSP for their Android builds at least for phones sold domestically.

      Google's worry is that Harmony will leave China and take away their market and ability to steal people's juicy juicy data in other places like Africa, South America and perhaps India.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Essential?

        >my daughter's not given to paraoia but she mentioned that people have noticed that some things they talk about have been turning up in adverts.)

        I've felt that too. However, I don't believe my phone is eavesdropping on me (yet) because there are more plausible (if not intuitive) explanations for the phenomenon. Especially if you've done any reading about how the brain works.

        It is very likely that there are unconscious (or forgotten) links between things I've searched for and the conversations I've had. It's this sort of cognitive gap that the likes of Darren Brown exploit.

        1. captain veg

          Re: Essential?

          Presumably you get bombarded with ads for books on how the brain works.

          -A.

    2. Sub 20 Pilot

      Re: Essential?

      I have been telling people this for years ( not in a ranty tinfoil hat way but when anyone asked about their new phone or similar I would tell them to take care about the shite they were installing and the information they were spewing online.)

      Mostly it was dismissed or ignored but a few years ago someone I know had a fright when she went home after discussing a particular and very niche product in her place of work.

      She did not google it on her iphone or do anything with the phone but just mentioned this product to a colleague, which she had heard about but never used, bought online or even searched for online.

      On turning on another i-device at home, presumably on the same apple account, she saw a bunch of ads for that very product. Spooked the shit out of her and started to see how intrusive the whole ecosystem was. Still did not stop her from getting one of the spy-speakers ''because friends have them...' so like most of the sheep, she had to as well.

      Even with this evidence of intrusion, spying and general creepiness I am afraid most of the population will still buy these things in their millions because they are a 'shiny thing.' I don't bother telling people any more, if they want to be sheep carry on.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Against all odds

    Nothing like an Open-Source Mobile-OS initiative strangled behind a closed minded Great Firewall.

    1. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: Against all odds

      Given that China's population is the same as America and the EU added together, then doubled... I don't think that's going to worry too many people right now. Their local market is potentially massive.

    2. DS999

      Re: Against all odds

      You're dreaming if you think it will stay restricted to China. All those countries China has economic interest in (belt and road stuff) will be buying these phones. That's what Google fears, they will not only be cut out of grabbing the data of a billion Chinese citizens, but many people in Africa, South America and perhaps India as well.

      Anyway, what's the difference between running a closed source OS with the data going to China, and an only partially open source (all the important parts of Android that steal your data are closed source) OS with the data going to Google?

      1. Sub 20 Pilot

        Re: Against all odds

        I would be in the market for one. If anyone is going to be stealing my data and profiting from it I would rather it were the Chinese than the tax dodging US companies, backed up with threats by the orange baboon.

  5. Silas S. Brown

    Symbian and Windows Mobile weren't dismal

    If anyone's going to call the performance of Symbian or Windows Mobile "dismal" then they ought to clarify that this refers to recent years i.e. after iOS and Android came onto the scene. Back before the rise of iOS and Android, let's not forget Windows Mobile had a 25% market share and Symbian's approached 50%, not dismal at all.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Symbian and Windows Mobile weren't dismal

      They were both based on older hardware paradigms, low RAM, no GPUs etc, stylus driven resistive touchscreens or no touchscreen at all. They were fundamentally unsuitable for the tasks modern smartphones are now put.

      Even Symbian's chief proponent Nokia knew this, and was developing a Linux-based OS to replace it (or rather, it was developing several Linux-based OSs and tripped over its own shoelaces under the supervision of brought-in middle managers)

      Edit: the fruits of some of Nokia's efforts live on in Samsung's Tizen, but that's only on things like Snartwatches. Samsung kept Tizen in the wings for years as a hedge against Google.

      1. EnviableOne Silver badge

        Re: Symbian and Windows Mobile weren't dismal

        Tizen is far from dead, the widley regarded best smartwatches, the Galaxy Watch range run on it.

        Its hyper low power and pretty functional, unlike the iWatch or any of the WearOS POC they dont need to be charged daily (manage a week with mine) and they beat out most of them on features and flexibility.

  6. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    “Others have tried and failed"

    Yes, but others were going up against a market where two multi-billion dollar behemoths were already entrenched and battle-ready. In China, there are over a billion potential customers and most of them have never heard of either Apple or Google. And the Chinese government has form in swinging the ban hammer if a local company feels it's getting in trouble.

    That should help things along quite a bit. A mobile phone solution could garner half a billion customers easily before trying its toes in the international arena. If it doesn't work swimmingly, it would still have its local market to fall back on, something Symbian and Windows Mobile never had.

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: “Others have tried and failed"

      That's far too generous to it. China is a more captive market, but there are lots of smartphone manufacturers there and they're not all Huawei. Huawei isn't making Harmony OS completely open for all of them to adopt; the parts that will be released won't comprise the whole thing. Do you really expect that, when they release this next year, several other phone manufacturers will immediately start licensing it and competing against the people who wrote it using the same software? They won't. Instead, they'll keep using what they used before: Android based on AOSP. Given that's what most Chinese customers are familiar with, that will still be a formidable competitor. It isn't a foregone conclusion that Harmony will lose to Android, but it certainly might. Thinking that Huawei owns the China market is remarkably similar and similarly incorrect as assuming that the Chinese government's international spying section and Huawei are the same place.

      1. CrackedNoggin

        Re: “Others have tried and failed"

        Huawei has 36% market share, followed by 19% for OPPO and Vivo. That enough. But does Huawei really NEED Harmony OS - or is it just about saving face? Basic Android (minus google) is free and open - there is no real business reason not to continue using it while using there own apps.

        1. EnviableOne Silver badge

          Re: “Others have tried and failed"

          they need a Home grown OS, AOSP is too influenced by google, and Xi's Technology strategy revolves around maximising the internal market and developing home grown options.

          most CCP mobile companys use a custom Distro of AOSP

          BBK(Vivo,OPPO,OnePlus) use Funtouch OS, ColorOS, OxygenOS

          Xiaomi use MIUI

          f HarmonyOS is truly in house and works, it will be the first, homegrown, and the others will be politley requested to skin the HOSP

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: “Others have tried and failed"

        Firstly you underestimate Chinese nationalism in the face of US tech sanctions. Secondly it opens an avenue for Chinese technological retaliation against the US by inturn banning the use of google's android on the mainland and finally Chinese customers are more familiar with the in-built chinese apps like WeChat and Weibo than they are with any underlying operating system. These apps would be available on Harmony O/S.

        Nothing is a foregone conclusion, but unless there is a change in the US stance in 5-10 years I foresee a non-US ecosystem in chinese mobile phone apps that may spread to other devices.

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: “Others have tried and failed"

          It's already a Chinese ecosystem. Android, minus Google's spyware, plus the popular Chinese apps. All the stuff they use can be maintained and has successfully been maintained for years. They don't need this in order to have a home-grown system.

          Chinese nationalism is one thing. It's the wrong thing for this argument. It's the thing that convinces people that Huawei might really be the Chinese government's sigint system, because of course all companies were founded for that purpose entirely. It makes a false equivalence between Huawei and the Chinese state, and it ignores that there are other manufacturers of phones based in China. There are several. Huawei has the largest section of the market share, but if you combine numbers 2 and 3, they have more. Include all the smaller ones, and they dwarf it by hundreds of millions of devices. You can be a Chinese nationalist, want to avoid any foreign-made tech, and still buy an entirely Chinese phone (hardware, OS, apps, network) without Huawei being involved. Or you could buy a device where Huawei is a little involved but it still doesn't run Harmony. Unless Huawei manages to convince the Chinese that other companies based in Shenzhen and Shanghai are somehow foreign, they can't just ride the wave of nationalism for their OS to be a success.

  7. thames

    Plan 'B' for everyone

    Other Chinese phone manufacturers may have incentive to adopt this OS also as a backup plan. They know that while they may not be in the American cross-hairs at the moment, any Chinese company which shows signs of success in their market can be a target for the US.

    The Americans are unmatched experts at weaponising the supply chain against their competitors, and they are showing less and less restraint when it comes to using this capability. Every significant cell phone company outside of the US, which means everyone except Apple has to be thinking about this and what it could mean for them.

    What might help adoption around the world is if instead of there being a walled garden, people could use whatever app, email, and other services vendors they felt like instead of being tied to the OS vendor. Apple and Google are the modern day IBM and Microsoft respectively, vertically integrated corporate behemoths whose main skill is vendor lock-in and fleecing customers for every penny they've got.

    The Americans don't trust the Chinese and the Chinese don't trust the Americans. In the rest of the world only a lunatic would trust either the Americans or the Chinese. Neither are innocent and they both do what they accuse each other of doing.

    I'd like to see a more decentralised world in which no one country has this sort of power over another, because otherwise some day that power will be used against my own country. There's no reason why things have to be the way they are other than somebody is making a lot of money out of it.

    I think that for somebody to make a success in the market at this point, they need to bring something new to it, and by "new" I don't mean more mega-pixels. What would really be new is a phone environment that is designed to be decentralised rather than under centralised control. One where I don't have to "trust" someone in another country, but rather can choose who can do what with my phone and whether they have access to any of my personal information. It means that the company selling phones would have to give up being the next Google or Apple, but being the next Apple or Google isn't offering a real alternative, it's just more of the same.

    I'm afraid that isn't likely to happen in this case, but it's nice to dream that it could.

    1. CrackedNoggin

      Re: Plan 'B' for everyone

      How about the pine phone?

      https://www.pine64.org/pinephone/

      It's under $200.

      (Probably mostly made in the US and China)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Plan 'B' for everyone

        Re: Pinephone

        With all the free icon themes out there and that web page is the best they could come up with as an advert - seriously?!?

        Or is it just meant for people who have never owned or seen a smart phone before?

    2. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Plan 'B' for everyone

      > What would really be new is a phone environment that is designed to be decentralised rather than under centralised control.

      Remember the Ubuntu phone? Yeah. And I don't think it was the only effort to focus on web-based apps that could be platform agnostic.

      1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

        Re: Plan 'B' for everyone

        But Google are heavily pushing the "PWA" website-as-app model. Iff PWAs becomes common, phones that only run web apps will make more sense. Until then, it's a non starter.

  8. Danny 5

    Maybe

    It's futile, but I'm doing my best to avoid Chinese products as much as I can. I know it's unavoidable, but I cannot in good conscience support that country in any way. Any penny spend on Chinese products is money in the pockets of their regime.

    They're some of the worst criminals on the globe right now, companies would do well to try and reduce their dependency on them. There are other options.

    1. hopkinse

      Re: Maybe

      And money in the pockets of Bezos, Cook, etc, etc is better how? They are all as bad as each other

      1. Danny 5

        Re: Maybe

        I don't see Bezos, Cook, etc putting people in concentration camps, so yeah, they're better.

        If you equate the mistreatment of staff with the massive oppression that's happening in China, you're absolutely insane.

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: Maybe

          It's a common family of logical fallacy, often referred to as 'What-about-ism' or false equivalence. Causing people to believe that 'they're all as bad as each other' because they've confused cynicism with critical thinking actually results in a dynamic in which only the bad players prosper, since there is then no incentive for people to be good (or less bad, at least)

          1. You aint sin me, roit Silver badge
            Holmes

            Re: Maybe

            The whataboutism was preceded by a false equivalence. Huawei is no more responsible for the government than any other manufacturer operating in China, say Apple or Tesla. They all put money in the pockets of the regime.

            I'm not saying that people shouldn't seek to reduce dependence on products coming out of China, but it will difficult to get any tech that is totally free from Chinese influence. I even saw a similar thread where someone was bemoaning the fact that Bosch branded screws were in fact made in China.

            We have to face up to the fact that western affluence is based on cheap manufacturing labour in China and the plundering of third world countries' natural resources.

        2. heyrick Silver badge

          Re: Maybe

          Turn your iPad or whatever over. Notice the tiny little label telling you it was proudly designed in California and made in China.

    2. Sub 20 Pilot

      Re: Maybe

      And do you think that the US companies and regime are better ?

      1. Louis Schreurs Bronze badge

        Re: U$ Maybe better ?

        Only logged in for upvoting this.

        I want to add that untill now there is only one country that has used atomic bombs to kill people. What an honour. It was not necessary to achieve what they've achieved with that, except setting a precedent. That they have done. The whole shite that the U$A is pulling off is based on that nationally shared power trip.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: U$ Maybe better ?

          Might as well mention Bay of Pigs, Nicaragua, Vietnam.

  9. David Roberts

    Dominic Cummings should read this

    If the alleged plans to use Government subsidies to build a trillion dollar UK tech company are true.

    Scepticism that a company with over a billion potential home customers under an authoritarian regime can build a new tech infrastructure suggest that a nation with around 60 million home customers may well struggle.

    1. Dave559 Bronze badge

      Re: Dominic Cummings should read this

      The UK has had at least two (or three, depending on how you look at it) world-class (if not always world-renowned) tech companies: Psion/Symbian and ARM.

      Those who knew, knew they were pretty good, and, in typical Brtish fashion, we sat around with that feeling of noble satisfaction of a job done well, but didn't shout out enough to publicise them well or to market them strongly, as US companies much more tend to do.

      It's almost a miracle that Psion/Symbian became rather successful, for quite a long time, but yet although well known in Europe, apparently neither was particularly well known in the USA (which, at the time, was a market at least as big, if not larger)?

      ARM obviously did do a good job of developing a very sizable, and growing, niche, and any sensible UK government and financial investors would hopefully have seen that they were a genuinely world-class company deserving of any necessary support to help their growth, but, as is too often the case, they ended up being bought by a foreign company instead.

  10. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Interesting

    It obvious where HarmonyOS will be marketed first. I tend to think its success will be driven more by Beijing getting behind it and making it the defacto national Chicon phone OS. If so, there will be pressure and possibly money to develop apps quickly for it. How well it well do outside of China, not so sure as many are suspicious of Beijing's motives and methods right now. I doubt other Asian countries will allow it all.

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