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Huawei mobile IoT OS ready to plug Android gap

Huawei is positioning its microkernel-based, distributed HarmonyOS mobile operating system as a true competitor to both Android and iOS

Huawei has officially launched its mobile device operating system, HarmonyOS – Hongmeng in Chinese – for consumer internet of things (IoT) devices, with an option to use it to shore up its previously-thriving smartphone business against the imminent threat of being permanently excluded from Google’s Android ecosystem over US national security concerns.

As the clock ticks down on a 90-day temporary licence that enables US firms such as Google to continue to do business with Huawei, and with no sign yet that Washington will remove Huawei from its Entity List of firms with which US companies may freely trade, Huawei has maintained that it would prefer to continue to equip its smartphone devices with the Android operating system, but in the absence of any changes, it is prepared to go it alone.

For now, HarmonyOS will be deployed for IoT devices such as watches and other wearables, in-vehicle systems, smart speakers and so on, although Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s Consumer Business Group, made it clear that the company had an eye on the smartphone business, too.

Speaking at Huawei’s Developer Conference in the Chinese city of Dongguan, Yu said HarmonyOS was “completely different from Android and iOS”.

“It is a microkernel-based, distributed OS that delivers a smooth experience across all scenarios,” said Yu. “It has trustworthy and secure architecture, and it supports seamless collaboration across devices. You can develop your apps once, then flexibly deploy them across a range of different devices.”

Yu said device owners now expected a “holistic, intelligent experience across all devices and scenarios” and Huawei felt it important to respond to this demand with an operating system that met those goals.

The operating system includes what Huawei terms as four distinct technical features to meet these goals.

Firstly, by distributing its architecture and virtual bus technology, it offers a shared communications platform, distributed data management and task scheduling, and virtual peripherals. Huawei said this meant app developers could focus on their own individual service logic rather than having to deal with underlying technology for distributed apps.

Secondly, a deterministic latency engine and high-performance inter process communication (IPC) will set task execution priorities and time limits for scheduling in advance, enabling resources to gravitate toward tasks with higher priorities, improving the response latency of apps by more than a quarter.

Thirdly, said Huawei, HarmonyOS’s microkernel architecture will “reshape security and trustworthiness from the ground up through a new microkernel design that uses formal verification methods in a trusted execution environment – a mathematical approach to validate system correctness from the source – and reduce probability of attack”.

Finally, a multi-device integrated development environment (IDE) will let developers code their apps one time before deploying them across multiple devices. Alongside this, the Huawei ARK compiler will enable developers to port previously-written Android apps over to HarmonyOS if needed.

The first version of HarmonyOS will be released into the wild later in 2019, and over the next three years it will be optimised and deployed across a broader range of devices. Again with an eye on the smartphone business, Huawei said it would deploy the foundations for the OS in its domestic market before expanding into the global ecosystem, although it did not put a firm date on that.

“We believe HarmonyOS will revitalise the industry and enrich the ecosystem,” said Yu. “Our goal is to bring people a truly engaging and diverse experience. We want to invite developers from around the world to join us as we build out this new ecosystem. Together, we will deliver an intelligent experience for consumers in all scenarios.”

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