“Hongmen” is a name which can be traced back to Chinese mythology, representing the primordial chaos of the world before creation. That’s the idea beyond the new open source, microkernel-based distributed operating system (OS) being developed by Huawei, known in China by Hongmen OS and in Europe by Harmony OS.
Harmony OS has been in development since 2012. However, in May of 2019, Huawei increased its efforts in the operating system as a response to the export restrictions imposed by the United States. It was born from the war between the US and Huawei, which begun with strong suspicions by American intelligence agencies that Huawei was linked with Chinese military forces, being able to supply the Chinese government with access to data using a backdoor. For the US, it was a question of national security. Consequently, the US started imposing export restrictions to Huawei. Companies such as Google and Microsoft were prohibited of making business with the Chinese company. This created a problem for Huawei, given that the operating system used by their devices was Android, owned by Google. Within this new context, the necessity to innovate and create a solution in order to respond to the restrictions on commerce appeared. Necessity is the mother of creation, and so the Harmony OS was born. Harmony OS was announced to the world without warning at 9th of August of 2019, as a plan B to the use of Android.
Huawei’s senior vice president, Catherine Chen, said that Harmony OS was designed for any Internet of Things (IoT) hardware. This means devices such as smartphones, televisions, smart speakers, cars, computers and other connected devices will have the same OS. The creation of an ecosystem, removing barriers will make contact between devices much easier, a convenience which may be pivotal to attract consumers. Google doesn’t have such an advantage, and probably never will. It will be also an overall smoother OS, making it more appealing to app developers.
Huawei’s Harmony was presented as being transparent, smooth, safe and unified, while Google’s Android was described as “unstable” and “fragmented”.
Although we can only trust Huawei’s words to a certain point, it is important not to forget that this is a more contemporary OS in comparison to the more modern versions of the now outdated Android.
Ready to take the market?
We already established that this new operating system is, being as euphemistic as one can be, bearable. But is it enough to compete with the leading OS’s in the market? Android absolutely dominates the market, being the OS of current Huawei smartphones, and iOS has Apple, the company with a powerful brand and the merits of having introduced smartphones to the world, as a backbone. Various OS’s supported by big companies have failed in the past. Microsoft Phone was very convenient between devices and had the fortune of Bill Gates’ support it, but lacked in practicality, becoming unattractive for consumers, which led app developers to become uninterested in developing Microsoft-supported. Samsung had the Tizen, which is still one of the smoothest OS’s ever developed. However, Google answered to this threat by limiting the access from Tizen users to the Google App store, making it rather difficult to download apps. Tizen is now restricted to Samsungs’ smartwatches and smart TV’s. In both these cases, Windows and Samsung, two gigantic players in the software industry, were strangled by this Google dominated market.
Huawei knows this, which may be the main reason that it will not use Harmony OS for smartphones, at least not immediately. Huawei is playing safe, continuing to use Android for as long as they can. However if US sanctions continue, Huawei will have no choice but to change to Harmony.
Will it work?
It will be quite the challenge for Huawei, but it certainly can make it happen.
Transition will be more difficult in Western markets. It is true that Huawei is everywhere nowadays, but we are all very used to Android and we don’t see any good reason to change. Being an overall best OS is not good enough. Most western apps will take time to convert, even though they will operate smoother than in android when they do. With only the past sanctions on Huawei, there was a considerable drop in sales in Europe, but they remained the second most bought brand.
In China however, it’s a whole new world for Huawei. With all the buzz between China and the US, and after seen as such conflicts affect the smartphone industry, Huawei is considered a patriotic symbol against America. In a way, the US government helped giving the perfect environment for the home success of the company. In China, not only Google but other American apps like Facebook and Uber were banned. Years have passed and now there are homegrown alternatives. The dependence on Android weakened and Huawei might finish it for good. There are over 200 000 000 Huawei users in China. If Huawei decided to lunch Harmony OS for smartphones, and all these users potentially convert, they finally become free of any American dependence. App developers will have no problem into converting their apps to be Harmony supported as it is overall better and has a minimum of 200 000 000 users as potential customers. And from there, as more developers work to be supported by Harmony, it will become more appealing to the Western world. It will spread to the European and American markets as Huawei keeps its success as a brand.
For now, Harmony OS isn’t ready to take the world market of smartphones, but you can already find it on Huawei new Smart TV’s. If these times of uncertainty continue, who knows until where this operating system could go. Huawei already said that it will not wait much longer – it will launch Harmony to smartphones between May and August of 2020 if the sanctions do not end. Android is a dinosaur compared to this brand new OS, and it may very well become obsolete. Conquering China seems easily possible to Harmony OS, and thereafter, there will be a world for the taking.