Rae Hodge was a senior editor at CNET. She led CNET's coverage of privacy and cybersecurity tools from July 2019 to January 2023. As a data-driven investigative journalist on the software and services team, she reviewed VPNs, password managers, antivirus software, anti-surveillance methods and ethics in tech. Prior to joining CNET in 2019, Rae spent nearly a decade covering politics and protests for the AP, NPR, the BBC and other local and international outlets.
We'd been hearing whispers that Huawei was creating its own operating system for phones, tablets and other smart devices, a precaution in case it lost access to Google's Android software. And the Chinese company confirmed this Friday at its Huawei Developer Conference, where it officially unveiled the new operating system: HarmonyOS, a cross-device platform previously known as HongMeng.
Speaking at HDC, Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei's consumer business, said HarmonyOS is ready to run on
if the company isn't able to use Android, but Huawei will hold off using it "for the consideration of partnership and ecosystem."
Yu said that, like Android, HarmonyOS will be open source, allowing developers to modify it for their hardware and opening the potential for a broader embrace of the platform. Yu also said migrating from Android to HarmonyOS would take a few days, and that the cross-device operating system will support a variety of app languages, including Android, Linux and HTML5.
Previously, Huawei expressed some uncertainty about its ability to use Android in future devices as it waited for Commerce Department clearance in the wake of the Trump administration's restrictions.
Huawei executive Catherine Chen acknowledged last month that HarmonyOS was being built, but said it wasn't for phones. She said it was originally designed for internet of things (IoT) devices like smart
, and that it contains far fewer lines of code than a phone OS.
Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei reportedly echoed the IoT point but boasted that the homegrown OS is about 60% faster than Android -- suggesting that it had in fact been made for phones. Ren also said HarmonyOS devices will require their own app store, which we've heard some evidence about.
Watch this: Huawei’s homegrown OS faces a steep uphill climb
In a Friday release, Huawei said HarmonyOS will include four distinct technical features:
--Machine learning was used to increase how fast the operating system itself runs, and app speeds will get a bump of up to 25.7%.
--The operating system will be usable across different devices. That implies phones, tablets, wearables, TVs, computers and more.
--A new microkernal design and Trusted Execution Environment will beef up security.
--The OS will come with a new tool for developers to build compatible apps that'll be able to work cross-device.
What do we know about Huawei's app store?
In June the company reportedly invited Google Play Store developers to publish apps in its AppGallery. An anonymous developer published an email Huawei apparently sent that offered support in the transition and free access to the Huawei Developer portal.
When will we see the first HarmonyOS devices?
HarmonyOS will first come to smart TVs and other "smart screen" devices, later in 2019. In the coming years, it'll migrate to car infotainment systems, wearables and more.
Huawei also offered details about the upcoming updates to EMUI 10, its modified version of Android (formerly known as Emotion UI), which it's sticking with for now.
The upcoming Mate 30 phone will ship with the software and emphasize cross-device compatibility. EMUI 10 phone users will be able to answer calls via smart TV integration, and beam their phone screen onto a laptop display. The phones are also built to integrate with
"With software, we are combining the laptop and the phone into a new device," said Huawei software head Wang Chenglu.
How hard is it to launch a new platform?
It's insanely difficult to launch a new operating system platform from scratch and rally developers behind it. Developers flock to big user bases, and right now that's
and Google's Android.
Other big-name players have made the attempt.
tried in vain to make Windows Phone a thing, but it eventually pulled the plug on the platform.
has pushed Tizen for years, but it's largely relegated to its smartwatch.
, with an established base of smartphone users, tried and failed to launch a modern, app-based operating system. It eventually abandoned it for Android.
Can Huawei expect things to be different?
Huawei is a massive player with the No. 2 market share in smartphones, so it would be unwise to completely dismiss HarmonyOS.
Over the last few years, whole platforms and systems have sprung up in China thanks to its huge customer base, so even if Harmony fails to catch on overseas, there could be enough Chinese users to drive its development.
It still faces an uphill battle though.
Watch this: What is going on between Huawei and the US?