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HarmonyOS: what you need to know about Huawei's new operating system

(Image credit: Huawei)

Originally announced in August 2019, HarmonyOS is about to hit smartphones and tablets for the first time as the major version 2.0 update rolls out. According to rumors, the devices and OS could land on June 2.

HarmonyOS is related to, but not exactly the same as, the Huawei Mobile Services (HMS), replacements to Google's apps that the company is working on in an effort to work pass the Huawei ban. These are apps that would go on its smartphones like the Huawei P40 or Mate 40, and there's certainly a ticking clock element in Huawei resuscitating its phone division before people associate it too much with the ban from Google apps.

HarmonyOS (previously codenamed HongMeng) is a platform designed for a variety of devices. It started off on IoT devices such as smart displays or smart home equipment, then moved on to TVs, and is now coming to phones, tablets, and smartwatches too.

Given the political situation between the US and China (see: Huawei ban) and the impact it’s had on Huawei’s access to Android over the last year, it’s little wonder that the brand is presenting a defiant, confident stance. 

Cut to the chase

  • What is it? Huawei's new operating system for a variety of devices
  • When is it out? Possibly June 2 outside China
  • How much will it cost? HarmonyOS won't cost you anything, though its products may

Harmony OS price and release date

(Image credit: Future)

HarmonyOS will be free to use, as long as you've got a device running the OS, but since even the best Huawei devices are relatively affordable, that shouldn't be too hard.

You can buy HarmonyOS devices right now in China, but the rest of us are still waiting to try out the software. It's rumored to be launching on June 2 alongside two tablets and two smartwatches.

After that we should see it appear on all Huawei products going forward, including the long-awaited Huawei P50. It might even come to devices currently running Android that aren't made by Huawei.

How does HarmonyOS work?

Huawei claims that with the rise of the IoT device, a more efficient operating system is needed. With these IoT devices packing less memory and storage than even the best smartphones, they need significantly more streamlined code, and for 100 lines of Android code, you could just have one line of HarmonyOS code. 

Despite this, HarmonyOS is still able to deliver powerful functionality across devices.

By taking a 'single kernel across devices approach', Huawei also aims to create a shared ecosystem of different devices, break through silos and in turn save developers time. One app can be deployed across a car head unit, smartwatch, fitness tracker and speaker, working perfectly. 

We’ve seen something similar ideas before, most notably on Windows Phone, which had a shared Kernel with Windows 10. While that wasn’t a hit, Huawei’s could have a silver bullet in its gun - Android compatibility.

Honor tv

Honor TV (Image credit: TechRadar)

HarmonyOS started life as a TV OS, to create opportunities for seamless casting and fluid across devices, so a user could be on a video call on their phone, cast it to a TV in the kitchen, then continue it in the living room. After that, they could take a phone call, moving from room to room, with the call following them around jumping from one smart speaker to another.

HarmonyOS will also feature on watches, speakers and car head units down the line, but isn't limited to these device categories. What’s more, it’s open-source, with Huawei releasing promises for plenty of developer support down the line.

HarmonyOS will also be an open-source platform, so developers will be able to provide apps for the platform and other manufacturers of smartphones may even choose to use the operating system.

Is HarmonyOS set to replace Android on phones?

As for smartphones getting HarmonyOS, Yu was clear on Huawei’s current stance when HarmonyOS was unveiled: "When can we put it on our smartphones? We can do it any time, but for the Google partnership, and efficiency, the priority will be for Google Android OS... If we cannot use it in the future, we can switch from Android’.

As time goes on, the possibility of Huawei phones getting back on Android is becoming smaller and smaller, so it's looking more and more likely that HarmonyOS will debut on phones and tablets in 2021.

Android

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

He clarified that the switch would be “quick and easy”, putting forward fighting words while clearly safeguarding his company’s partnership with Google, for the time being at least.

Upon its announcement, Yu refrained from committing to any switches from Android to HarmonyOS just yet, and it seems Huawei's President of Global Media and Communications, Joy Tan, agrees, suggesting HarmonyOS isn't going to replace Android on Huawei phones any time soon.

Tan said "a viable alternative to Android's operating system will take years to complete.", seemingly contradicting statements made upon HarmonyOS' debut, but it just shows that there's no immediate plans for HarmonyOS to be available on Huawei phones.