The only viable Android and iOS competitor intends to leave China and go global

Huawei plans to expand its native HarmonyOS smartphone platform worldwide, despite coming under US-led sanctions that have deprived it of access to key technologies.

The Chinese tech megacorp released its own phone platform in 2019, the same year that US sanctions blocked Huawei from having further access to Google’s Android software to power its devices.

More recently, the company saw its Mate 60 Pro smartphone become the top selling device in China’s huge consumer market, displacing rivals such as Apple’s iPhone. It also has a newer device, the Pura 70, that could pose a bigger threat to Apple sales in the country.

↫ Dan Robinson at The Register

If there is one company that has the capabilities and will to truly offer a third alternative, it’s Huawei with HarmonyOS. This company has the full might of the Chinese state behind it, and it clearly has the drive to prove itself after the various sanctions levied against it in recent years that barred it from using Google’s Android. It’s obviously already experiencing major success in its home market, but now the company intends to go global, country by country, to positino HarmonyOS alongside iOS and Android.

Huawei basically takes a brute-force approach, explaining that they identify the 5000 most popular applications, which they claim cover 99% of users’ time with their smartphones, and port those over first. I’m not entirely sure how they convince developers to port over their applications, but I’m guessing money is involved. Fair play, I would say – it’s not like anything else is going to break the stranglehold Apple and Google have over the mobile application market.

We haven’t really spent much time talking about HarmonyOS in the west in general, and on OSNews in particular, which is a bit of a shame because it has some interesting characteristics. For instance, it has a multi-kernel design, where it uses the Linux kernel on more powerful devices like smartphones and tablets, and the RTOS LiteOS kernel on lower power IoT devices. DSoftBus is another interesting part of the operating system, which allows multiple devices to kind of join together and share data, applications, and control seamlessly.

HarmonyOS supports both Android and true HarmonyOS applications, the latter of which are marked with a little logo in the corner of the application icon, but the unique features of HarmonyOS, like DSoftBus, are only accessible to true HarmonyOS applications. Developing these native applications can be done in DevEco Studio, which is built atop IntelliJ IDEA, using ArkUI. Huawei even went so far as to develop its own browser engine for HarmonyOS, which it recently released as open source, called ArkWeb.

While HarmonyOS currently still supports running Android applications, this will soon no longer be the case as the company is working on HarmonyOS NEXT, which will remove Android compatibility to focus entirely on true HarmonyOS applications instead. NEXT also does away entirely with the multikernel approach, ditching both the Linux and LiteOS kernels for a new HarmonyOS microkernel, and uses Huawei’s own Cangjie programming language for application development. HarmonyOS NEXT is currently being tested on a variety of Huawei devices, with a beta and final release planned for later this year.

It’s just our luck that the only potentially viable competitor to Android and iOS is a party closed-source operating system from China, which will surely bring with it a whole host of security concerns in the west. It’s really difficult at the moment to ascertain just how much of HarmonyOS – and specifically, HarmonyOS NEXT – is available as open source, which is a major bummer. I don’t think I’d ever want to use a (partly) closed source Chinese operating system for anything major in my life, but if it’s open source we could at least see non-Chinese forks that I’d find easier to trust.

The road of iOS and Android competitors is littered with the bodies of failed attempts – Symbian, the various iterations of Windows Phone, BlackBerry, Sailfish, Ubuntu Touch, the GNOME/Plasma attempts that just can’t grow beyond proof of concepts – and there is no way to know if Huawei can pull off outside of China what it did with HarmonyOS inside China. Western markets are incredibly weary of anything related to Huawei, and for all we know, this operating system won’t ever even be allowed inside the US and the EU in the first place.

Regardless of international politics and the CCP’s brutal, totalitarian, genocidal regime, HarmonyOS NEXT seems like a very interesting platform with fresh ideas, and I’d love to at least try it out once it hits international markets with proper localisation into English. I’ll take a problematic Chinese smartphone operating system competitor over no competitor at all – even if I won’t use it myself, it’ll be at least some form of competition both Apple and Google desperately need.


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