back to article Huawei prepares to split from Android on consumer devices with HarmonyOS Next

Huawei last week detailed a major release of its HarmonyOS that will see the Chinese giant break with the Linux ecosystem. HarmonyOS was launched in 2019 – initially as an OS for IoT devices, but later adapted to run on smartphones and other hardware. Huawei suggested the OS could run on its wearables, tablet computers, …

  1. sarusa Silver badge
    Devil

    ''split'

    But they'll keep stealing from mainline Android as necessary. That's how they got their moon lander.

    1. abend0c4 Silver badge

      Re: ''split'

      Given they were using Android in the past, I'm not sure how stopping using it amounts to "stealing" from what is ostensibly an Open Source project.

      In reality, of course, it's not that popular without Google's proprietary additions and I'm sure Google will be hot on their heels if they nick any of that.

      I'd have been more impressed if they'd given up on native development altogether and come up with a platform on which web applications could do all that was needed. But the one idea everyone seems to want to steal is the walled garden and its entrance fee.

      1. RockBurner

        Re: ''split'

        "But the one idea everyone seems to want to steal is the walled garden and its entrance fee"

        Welcome to Capitalism.

    2. Necrohamster Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: ''split'

      "That's how they got their moon lander."

      By stealing from mainline Android? Those crafty buggers.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: ''split'

      Definitely stealing the UI from iOS/iPadOS. Have to wonder what China would be capable of if they put as much effort into inventing their own technology as stealing and reverse engineering everyone else's..

      1. Ideasource Bronze badge

        Learning is now theft!?!?

        I remember when I first stole high fives from a TV show.

        Also remember how I stole language from others around me.

        Then there's how I stole smiling from my parents.

        Hell I stole every bit of understanding I have from the environment that surrounds me.

        Or maybe this is all just a case of the wrong word because I'm pretty sure the appropriate word is not "stole" but learned.

        The Chinese may have learned from the world around them but don't we all.

        It's okay for a a developing entity to mimic the expressions of others.

        In fact it's absolutely necessary normal and healthy.

        The commercial world disregards real world sensibilities and operates as a sort of exception from reality lala land in which reality is suspended in favor of a law enforced game made of fabricated from imagination and willful desire of its authors.

        So if anything the Chinese might be cheating by American rules, but if mimicry without consent is stealing then lock every Infant up, kill the learning process and and revert humans to dumb animals.

        For not willing to do that then you have to admit that it's not stealing.

        Either it's b******* that people made up or it's real independent of cultural and legal Fabrications.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Learning is now theft!?!?

          Nice straw-man going on with that reply...

          I don't think you can claim you're a "developing" nation when you've got the second largest economy in the world... In the academic world stealing someone else's work is called plagiarism. In the business world it's called IP theft. You've only got to look at their cars, planes, rockets, and technology to see how much they rip off western companies and try to make stuff their own. Hell, Russia even refuse to sell them aircraft as China bought the SU-27 from them and reverse engineered it into the J-11, breaking all their agreements.

          As a reader of this site and (presumably) other tech related sites you'll see articles all the time of China trying to infiltrate companies (often via state sponsored organisations) for this very purpose.

          1. Necrohamster Silver badge
            FAIL

            Re: Learning is now theft!?!?

            Wow.

            You accuse someone of making a straw man argument, and then proceed to make your own straw man by accusing a whole country of intellectual property theft. We could probably add "guilt by association" and "ad hominem" to the list of logical fallacies you make.

            In any case your erroneous, xenophobic argument is tangential to any discussion of forking of one OS from another. Isn't AOSP is an open source project which people are free to develop and adapt?

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Learning is now theft!?!?

              > "your own straw man by accusing a whole country of intellectual property theft."

              It's not a straw argument. You might try to call it that way. There is so much evidence. Everyday brings more evidence. But they are still working on it.

              One domain where they did not have much success though is RNA vaccines. Sinopharm and cansino were not better than placebo. This kind of biotech is much harder to master than just copying a BMW X5 or a Range Rover.

          2. Ideasource Bronze badge

            Re: Learning is now theft!?!?

            Silly guy , I was referring to "development" the function

            Not "Developing Country" the socially compromised term used as a fabricated permission system within the limited context of international squabbles.

            every Nation. every person, every creature, in every situation is constantly developing until it develops into non-existence.

            They will continue to develop until they develop non-existence.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Learning is now theft!?!?

          Judge: My technical experts are telling me that you copied both the software and the documentation of some CISCO gear. Complete with bugs and typos.

          Huawei Lawyer: It was for learning purposes, your Honour.

          Judge: Ah OK. My mistake. If it was for learning... what can I say!? Case dismissed!

          Welcome to the hilarious world of wumaos.

      2. neverending

        Re: ''split'

        I wish they would copy the windows phone GUI for it.

        I'd buy one.

      3. neverending

        Re: ''split'

        I wish they would copy the windows phone GUI.

        I'd buy one

  2. ldo

    It’s Linux

    No company in the world has the resources to create a credible Linux competitor from scratch.

    1. HISTSIZE=10000

      Re: It’s Linux

      Implement URSP for instance.

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: It’s Linux

      But they could take Linux and do a s:linux:harmonyos:g on it. Not saying they necessarily would or did, but that's basically what they did when they announced the first Harmony OS to run on phones with Android. Sure, they called it version 2 instead of 10 and they had a different format for app packages, but it was Android in every detail. I'll believe they've made a completely new kernel when I see the images and the technical reviews of its contents, not before. I've seen too many people boast that they've invented a completely new OS, UI, browser, whatever which actually turns out to be someone else's whatever with a really minor change on it which breaks maintainability but doesn't do much else.

      1. StrangerHereMyself Silver badge

        Re: It’s Linux

        I believe the first version of HarmonyOS was basically an AOSP (Android Open Source Project) + Linux version and later on they created their own kernel and ran AOSP on top of that. And now they've gone the Full Monty by replacing AOSP with their own implementation.

        If China ever gets into a spat with the U.S. and Android is prohibited from use by Chinese smartphone builders Huawei could win big with HarmonyOS. As things are today they don't stand a chance.

      2. ldo

        Re: But they could take Linux ...

        Sure they could. But that means creating their own fork. Which is unwise. Because then they have to take on the burden of keeping up with mainline development. Otherwise they fall behind. And end up with an outdated code base. Not a good look.

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: But they could take Linux ...

          Hence the "breaks maintainability" part. But phone manufacturers don't tend to get too much PR problems when they never update Android, hold back security updates for a year, for the first two years, then stop entirely, or run out of date kernels. Chinese companies are among the worst for keeping them updated, even nowadays when companies like Samsung have realized that Android support longevity is important to at least some people. Huawei is one of the companies that still has no organized update policy. Do you really think the public perception of them would be much worse if they renamed Linux and were still not updating it?

    3. StrangerHereMyself Silver badge

      Re: It’s Linux

      And why not? You could borrow some of the code or at least get some ideas how to implement it in for your own kernel. It wouldn't be possible to attain all of the driver support in Linux but you could at least support modern hardware, which is sufficient for most purposes.

    4. Avon B7

      Re: It’s Linux

      You'd have to define both 'Linux' and 'competitor' before making that particular claim.

      Huawei is creating solutions for its own needs and reducing dependencies.

      The road map has been clear from the original announcement in 2019.

      A multi-kernel system for all manner of devices (from a few KB of memory through to much higher resources) with the eventual goal of one 'harmonised' kernel.

      That meant a 'pure' self-developed kernel was already running on some devices from the get go.

      For phones and tablets (and for app compatibility reasons) the Android/Linux combo was used (infused with a lot of HarmonyOS code - especially the network stack).

      In China, HarmonyOS NEXT will transition away from that.

      OpenHarmony was released as an open source version not long after the initial release and a few projects used it to form the base of new OS efforts.

      HarmonyOS CONNECT is also available for things like IoT and appliances (together with a range of IoT chipset solutions).

      Outside China Huawei ships both the EMUI and HarmonyOS AOSP based systems plus pure HarmonyOS systems . EMUI for Phones. AOSP HarmonyOS for tablets and pure HarmonyOS on wearables, TVs, routers, mesh systems etc.

      To the end user it's all 'HarmonyOS' which is a very simple and effective branding scenario. All high memory systems have the core sharing and 'super device' functionality.

      Taking that as an overview, one could say that it is already a credible Linux competitor.

      The claimed efficiency gains over Linux will need to be tested. As will the security aspects but the pure HarmonyOS kernel has passed the highest security certifications already and seems relatively mature.

      There have been some recent New Year claims that may or may not border on wackiness but it seems that TechInsights released a report saying that HarmonyOS could overtake iOS in China this year.

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: It’s Linux

        The Harmony OS for IoT devices is not at all the same as the one for phones. Maybe the new version will find a way to unite them, but until now, they've been completely separate things with the same name on them. There was no compatibility between the Harmony OS watch and the Harmony OS phone; you could not install an application written for the phone on the watch and not just because the storage was insufficient. This is not really a surprise, as the Harmony OS watch is an embedded system running one program close to bare metal with the embedded Harmony OS providing features. Lots of things like that exist, and they don't tend to run Linux either because they run in environments with insufficient resources to make running Linux possible or desirable.

        However, we don't take any of the embedded OSes for low-resource electronics and try to run them as the main OS on a phone or computer because they're missing lots of features and there's no point. The amount of code that can be usefully shared between the two is too low, because the low-resource version will need lots of optimization to fit into the constraints, whereas those optimizations generally just make things worse for the kernel that can use more RAM and should to keep the user experience fast. Can they be united? Definitely, but there's a reason to believe that whatever Huawei is doing, it's not that.

    5. NeilPost Silver badge

      Re: It’s Linux

      What apart from Samsung and Tizen?!

      Or BlackBerrySecureOS (formerly BlackBerry OS10 and QNX)

      Or LG and WebOS.

      They are ten a penny. Android is still trouncing them …ask Samsung. You. An’t bet bigger the man that…. as a multiple sector top manufacturer.. and literally the supply chain.

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: It’s Linux

        Mobile oses aren't synonymous with kernels. Tizen is not a kernel; it's using Linux. WebOS uses Linux. The only one on that list that doesn't have Linux at the base is QNX, and that's the one that's no longer used on basically anything.

        Of course, anyone can write a kernel if they put some time into it, but it's much harder to write a kernel that has anything like the ubiquity and stability of Linux. That takes a lot more work, and it's unlikely for any particular company to be motivated to do that work when using stuff that already accomplishes some of the goal is free. They can prove us wrong, but I'll believe that they have when I can prove it for myself.

  3. Necrohamster Silver badge

    Outside of China, is there a market for another smartphone ecosystem?

    Samsung couldn't crack the Linux smartphone space with Tizen (or Bada before that).

    I can't see anybody in the West being inspired to move off Android or iOS to an unknown OS which will probably have limited app support Huawei's current version of Android isn't spectacular in terms of app availability. And no, before anybody says it, regular users aren't going to install thrid-party app stores or sideload apps to get the functionality they need.

    1. RegGuy1 Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Outside of China, is there a market for another smartphone ecosystem?

      Well if you choose to install apps more fool you. Put on only one: Firefox, set as the default browser.

      Why on earth do you think websites try to seduce you with 'this site is best viewed with our app'? Apps are data sucking machines. At least with Firefox you can use an ad blocker and no script to have some control.

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: Outside of China, is there a market for another smartphone ecosystem?

        Because some of us like to use our phones as computers, not just web terminals. If that's not you, more power to you. Some of the things I like my phone to do require it to work offline on local files, and the app model manages that pretty well.

        1. Necrohamster Silver badge

          Re: Outside of China, is there a market for another smartphone ecosystem?

          Wow, you're quite the trendsetter. Give yourself a pat on the back.

        2. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: Outside of China, is there a market for another smartphone ecosystem?

          Nice idea, but many apps are just browser shims and so can’t be relied on to show essential data.

          I have a group of screenshots that I use to guarantee I can show stuff like railcard, discount card etc. without having to worry about mobile coverage and internet access speed.

    2. StrangerHereMyself Silver badge

      Re: Outside of China, is there a market for another smartphone ecosystem?

      Agree. Anyone can create an operating system (and looking on GitHub many do) but without applications they're just curiosities. You need support from big ISV's, financial institutions and governments to succeed. That's extremely difficult if not impossible to get, even in China.

    3. Avon B7

      Re: Outside of China, is there a market for another smartphone ecosystem?

      My house has all three (iOS, HarmonyOS and Android).

      Two mesh systems, four watches/wearables, a tablet, a lamp and a router all running HarmonyOS.

      What Huawei needs to do outside China, from an ecosystem perspective, is soup-up the experience for HMS and AppGallery on non-Huawei phones, especially the Cloud side.

      That would effectively add HarmonyOS functionality to GMS phones and kill two birds with one stone.

      Obviously Honor would be the perfect candidate for such a route.

      Then it could open up the thousands of devices from third parties running HarmonyOS capable firmware to the world market.

    4. sorry, what?
      Facepalm

      Re: Outside of China, is there a market for another smartphone ecosystem?

      As someone involved in app development, I don't see the point in trying to support this as a third "ecosystem" - in much the same way Windows Mobile was treated back in the day.

      Yes, we've had some customers say some of their users have Huawei devices (that our apps don't run on), but the volume for us is negligible and thus ignored. Sure, there could be a lot of potential users in China, but we don't have customers there (and are unlikely to, I'd think, because of the way China requires you to "partner" with local businesses and we'd rather avoid our products getting pirated).

      1. Avon B7

        Re: Outside of China, is there a market for another smartphone ecosystem?

        Business is business. If it doesn't make economic sense to support a third system you are correct in not offering that option.

        However, Huawei is promoting (and in some cases offering financial incentives) the idea of supporting Chinese app developers outside China and 'rest of the world' developers in China, with support structures like localisation.

        But at the end of the day if your particular solution doesn't work out as 'doable' because of the resources required, that is understandable.

  4. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Big Brother

    "the platform could become a de facto standard behind the Great Firewall"

    Oh but it will. And Beijing will be "working" hand-in-hand with Huawei to ensure that the HarmonyOS is a good pupil, ready to upload all the data Beijing requires to its surveillance servers.

    There is an open-source version ? I would scour that with a fine-tooth comb to ensure that nothing pointed to Beijing's servers before trying that out.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "the platform could become a de facto standard behind the Great Firewall"

      It's not as easy as that. There could be "call-home" like telemetry stuff. But the way they do, usually, is that they leave some vulnerabilities. Then exploit these vulnerabilities.

      Since many stacks have vulnerabilities too (and more are discovered all the time), intention is easy to deny.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Non-Linux kernel

    Soooo, someone's finally got a usable version of HURD, then, have they? ;-)

    Or perhaps it's based on a BSD kernel? Or maybe (although it seems much less likely) it actually is something entirely (or mostly, at least) new?

    Oh no, wait, they've been hybridising the systemd many-tentacled monster into something fully self-replicating and self-aware… The grey goo awaits us… «screams»

    1. Zolko Silver badge

      Re: Non-Linux kernel

      Minix, Plan-9, QNX ... there ARE already non-Linux kernels out there. Dunno what Huawei is going to use

      1. StrangerHereMyself Silver badge

        Re: Non-Linux kernel

        If I understand correctly it's based on a microkernel called LiteOS, which can be found on GitHub.

        1. Avon B7

          Re: Non-Linux kernel

          While I'm not sure of the specifics here, LiteOS was used on Huawei wearables and it definitely housed the security elements of HarmonyOS prior to its official release.

  6. TVU Silver badge

    "If Huawei can develop an ecosystem of third-party players, it could create a viable alternative to the Android/iOS duopoly"

    That is possible but it might only extend to Chinese language areas although that would be a substantial market in itself.

    1. Necrohamster Silver badge

      The Huawei AppGallery's been running for several years now, and it sucks.

      e.g. Installing Spotify:

      Install Spotify.

      "Spotify needs Gbox to run."

      Do you click 'install' or 'cancel'? I mean you're invested in the outcome at this point.

      You say to yourself "WTF is Gbox?". The dialog box doesn't give any indication...

      Switch to your browser and google 'Gbox'. Turns out it's some hack that allows you to access Google services.

      That's the problem: it's a hacky, clunky mess of apps that weren't even adapted from their Google Play Services-aware counterparts

      1. Peshman

        Spotify will bend like a reed in the wind

        If China decided that Gplay / Android / iOS are outlawed the do you really think that Spotify wouldn't redevelop a compatible app for the 'new' ecosystem? A slice of the pie of 2Bn potential consumers is still substantially larger than the whole of the US has to offer. If the CCP offered me exclusive rights to their market I'd do it in a heartbeat. Ever since Trump started his nonsense the Chinese have been making huge leaps forward. They built their own spacestation, landed on the dark side of the moon and started fabbing 7nm chips. If I was the US I'd be fucking terrified of what happens in the next 5 - 10 years.

        1. Necrohamster Silver badge

          Re: Spotify will bend like a reed in the wind

          Spotify was just an example. Pick any app that needs Google Play Services to function and try again.

          I don't particularly care what way app developers on the Huawei AppGallery might bend...not my circus and not my monkeys.

          Huawei have had years to get developers' acts together if they really wanted to. All they need to do is prevent apps from being published on their store if a hack is needed to run.

          Chinese users don't give a damn about Google services anyway because they're all in the WeChat/Weixin ecosystem.

          So I'll say again, there's little to no demand for HarmonyOS specifically in the West (aside from a handful of tech geeks). China, sure. But the West? No.

          1. Peshman

            Re: Spotify will bend like a reed in the wind

            I agree completely if we're talking about outside of of China. Like you I was also only using Spotify as an example. However, I was also considering the bigger picture. Looking at their progression from the Trump era to now you have to admire their tenacity and determination to stick two fingers up at "The West" threatening to take their ball and go home. The Chinese keep making their own balls and carry on playing.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Spotify will bend like a reed in the wind

              "you have to admire their tenacity and determination to stick two fingers up at "The West" threatening to take their ball and go home."

              Wow, in the news... Peshman admires China.

              Not sure whether you're following the news or not, but, for now at least, it would appear that it's "The West" taking "their ball", their investment and their business and going home. Stock market is crashing, real estate is a mess, banks are filing for bankruptcy, billions of dollars are leaving the country every month, youth unemployment has passed the 20% mark a long time ago and stats are now secret.... etc...

              You'll have to wait a bit longer to see Uncle Xi defeat uncle Sam, I'm afraid.

          2. ChoHag Silver badge

            Re: Spotify will bend like a reed in the wind

            There is a lot of interest in any platform which isn't google or apple. Huawei may not be a step up, but it is a step.

        2. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: Spotify will bend like a reed in the wind

          You're rounding a lot to turn 1.4 billion into 2 billion. Yes, it's a lot of people, but you can't just assume that, because there are a lot of people, you will get a lot of them to buy your products. Do I think that Spotify would make a new app for Chinese users? No, and here's why. From Wikipedia:

          "It [Spotify] has no presence in mainland China where the market is dominated by QQ Music."

          If they haven't entered the market now, when their Android app would run on most devices as it is, why would I expect them to do so when they first have to make something completely new? They have decided so far that the likelihood of success is low enough to focus on other places. The same is true of a lot of companies outside of China.

        3. RegGuy1 Silver badge

          Re: Spotify will bend like a reed in the wind

          landed on the dark side of the moon

          It's only dark for half a month.

      2. Avon B7

        AppGallery is an app store.

        It can offer to install apps from outside the AppGallery but it notifies you of the fact.

        In the case of Spotify, which isn't available natively on AppGallery, it tells you that it is from AppParks. A third party source.

        You are free from there to do as you see fit. Spotify requiring GMS can hardly be deemed a problem of AppGallery and HarmonyOS NEXT will not even give you the convenience option of installing and then requiring something like Gbox

        What is irritating about AppGallery is that if you are running both GMS and HMS natively it will offer to update native apps that it didn't originally install.

        For example my banking app is available natively on both AppGallery and Play Store. It was originally installed by Play Store but if an update reaches AppGallery first, it will offer to update it. I can ignore that of course.

        I think app stores should only update the apps that were originally installed by them.

        1. Necrohamster Silver badge

          "It can offer to install apps from outside the AppGallery but it notifies you of the fact."

          This is more of the hacky, clunky crap I was talking about: sending users to third-party apk download sites if the AppGallery doesn't have what they're looking for.

          That's not acceptable for any app store, but only someone with a technical background might understand the implications.

          If the APK download site gets compromised, every Huawei user that's downloaded something from it could also be compromised.

          1. Avon B7

            It's far from hacky. It's a simple option which the user can choose. The warnings are there.

            Is it the best solution? No.

            A native app would be the best solution but not offering to do the searching for the user wouldn't make much sense either.

            If the app isn't available natively, why not link to the non-native version and save the user the effort?

            What point would it serve leaving the user in the dark?

            The key here is informing the user that the app can be reached but only from outside the AppGallery. As long as that requirement is fulfilled (and it is) everything is clear.

            The move to HarmonyOSNEXT will mean only native apps will run (Android app compatibility will be lost) so the option won't be present at some point during the year on those systems.

        2. Jan 0 Silver badge

          I have no idea what GMS is. There's no GMS on my M6, but Spotify is running fine on HarmonyOS.

          However, I'm not sure that I'd trust mine to keep my banking details secret.

  7. mark l 2 Silver badge

    I guess all Huawei need is for Wechat to get ported to Harmony OS and that will probably be enough for a lot of Chinese users to consider it, as that has its own app store inside it.

    I doubt its going to make much in roads outside of China though, iOS and Android are too entrenched in the west for a 3rd ecosystem to be able to get a large enough market share to encourage devs to port their apps over.

  8. Martin Harnevie

    PRC's Symbian OS

    The descriptions of HarmonyOS, including its architecture, seems more like the venerable Symbian OS than Android OS.

  9. TSch

    "Huawei has one huge advantage: China's government is on its side" Is this supposed to be a joke? As if US government would not be much more actively supporting its suppliers and attacking Huawei?

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