Huawei's Android Replacement HarmonyOS Is Years In The Making

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Huawei may have announced HarmonyOS for its smart TVs and could consider releasing it for low-end smartphones, but its Android replacement is years in the making.

"We have to find alternative solutions for that ecosystem, but it's going to take some time to build. There are so many Android users in Europe and south-east Asia, and they're so used to Google applications on top of Android phones," said Huawei Public Affairs Vice President Joy Tan.

The claim isn't surprising, considering the circumstances under which Huawei announced and released HarmonyOS to the world.

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HarmonyOS = HongMeng, a 7-year project

Just how did HarmonyOS get started? Well, it's been a 7-year project according to those familiar with the OS before it went public. The world may know it as HarmonyOS, but Huawei dubbed it "HongMeng" for the Chinese market. For the last seven years, Huawei's top executives have been working on this top-secret operating system that was designed for a global emergency such as a Huawei Ban. This is what research by credible sources has uncovered regarding the operating system.

Huawei Ban pushes HongMeng into the open

There's a proverbial saying that goes something like this: "There is nothing hidden that won't be revealed," and the same can be said for Huawei's HongMeng. Only in the presence of the Huawei Ban in mid-May, created by way of US President Donald Trump's Executive Order, did HongMeng go from top-secret OS to "here's what we're working on next" according to Huawei. After the President's order, Google immediately revoked Huawei's longstanding Android license, though the Federal Government gave Huawei until August 19th to update its devices with critical security patches and platform updates before another reprieve could be granted.

At the time, though, Huawei said it was only considering the use of HongMeng for the Internet-of-Things (IoT) platform to connect devices together, not for mobile. At that time, Huawei was still under a temporary reprieve from the US to update its devices on Google's Android. Huawei made it clear at that time that it still wanted to do business with Google and Google's Android, since so many of its Android partners and the platform itself have given Huawei a large measure of success.

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Huawei gives conflicting statements

You can tell Huawei was having some angst over pushing HongMeng out of the "mobile pond" too soon because on one hand, Huawei was threatening to take 800 million users from Google's Android if Huawei's license was effectively withdrawn.

Next, HongMeng was said to be seven years in the making, but doesn't seem to be anywhere near formidable to Google's Android. If Huawei has been working on HarmonyOS (HongMeng) for seven years, why is it that the new OS will need "years" before it becomes an Android rival? It sounds as though Huawei hasn't been working as much on the new OS as reports say. Rather, it seems like Huawei has been experimenting with the idea, spending more time on churning out devices with Google's Android than researching and developing HarmonyOS.

The icing on top of the cake concerns Huawei's claim that "HongMeng is for IoT," all the while allowing Vivo and OPPO to test HongMeng on their smartphones and claim that it's "60% faster than Android." Perhaps it is faster, considering its more barebones, open-sourced Android than anything else. If a platform is only for IoT, why have smartphone companies test it in their mobile devices? At the time, Huawei didn't want to use HongMeng for mobile, but not getting another reprieve from the US Government, nor an act of goodwill from Google to return Huawei to Android, the company sees no other choice come November 19th when its current reprieve runs out.

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So, Huawei has given the appearance that it can do without Google (800 million users would walk out), has said that it could make it on its own, but the truth is that Huawei really wants to stay with Android but knows that it's a political pawn in the US-China Trade War.

And Huawei has been giving this impression while emailing Google Play Store developers requesting they come and develop apps for Huawei's app store, AppGallery. When you need comparable apps developed for your platform, it signals a few things: first, your own app store isn't robust enough, and second, you're desperate to compete because your mobile life depends on this fledgling OS you've got. Both of these statements fit Huawei to perfection.

Huawei finally does something right: HarmonyOS goes open-source to encourage adoption

Huawei's new OS is open-source "to encourage adoption," Huawei has said, meaning that Huawei wants to build as big a user base as possible. An open-sourced platform allows developers to use it and test it to ensure it is secure and safe for the public.

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The Huawei Ban has seen the best and worst of the situation. Huawei has been forced to bring HarmonyOS out of the shadows and make it a platform to at least arrive on its smart TVs. Sources say Huawei will bring it to low-end smartphones by year's end, but that remains to be seen. As for Huawei's Mate X, only time will tell. And there's still that technical hurdle of Android compatibility that we've still not heard much about. That would make it possible to port apps over to Huawei's new Mate 30 and Mate 30 Pro. These two smartphones recently had bootleg access to Google's Play Store, but that loophole has since been closed by Mountain View itself. The Mate 30 series launched recently sans Google's Android and Google Play access, a misfortune that Samsung used to market its own Galaxy Note 10 series to Latin American customers.

Huawei has done a good thing to make its platform open-source. After all, the more freedom given to developers, the more developer-friendly the platform becomes. Developers bring apps and ideas, which convert into dollars and brings increasing numbers of users to the platform.

And yet, Huawei can't get past the mobile "elephant in the room," Google's Android. It's a beast that no other OS has yet to tame. Perhaps that, more than developers, money, and apps, will be its greatest obstacle yet, moving forward.

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Staff News Writer

Deidre Richardson is a tech lover whose insatiable desire for all things tech has kept her in tech journalism some eight years now. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she earned BA degrees in both History and Music. Since graduating from Carolina in 2006, Richardson obtained a Master of Divinity degree and spent four years in postgraduate seminary studies. She's written five books since 2017 and all of them are available at Amazon. You can connect with Deidre Richardson on Facebook.

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