In many ways the official teaser ahead of the Huawei Developers Conference 2019 said it all. “When the mobile phone is no longer just a mobile phone, the computer is no longer just a computer, what new power smart technology holds?” At today’s Huawei Developer Conference 2019 in Dongguan, China Huawei Consumer Business Group CEO Richard Yu unveiled the Harmony Operating System. Primarily aimed at IoT products such as smart displays, wearables, smart speakers and in-car devices instead of smartphones. Harmony OS is positioned as a future-proof, microkernel-based, distributed OS for all scenarios.
The use of a microkernel also improves security, as the microkernel only provides the most basic services like thread scheduling and IPC, while most system services are implemented in user space. With less code to audit, the probability that a new attack will be discovered will be low. Huawei also says it is using formal verification methods to secure the TEE kernel. Huawei says this technique, which uses a mathematical approach to validate system correctness from the source, is mainly applied to security-critical fields like aerospace and chipsets, significantly contributing to system reliability and robustness. The microkernel can furthermore be scaled on demand for wider system security.
Performance is theoretically better than Android and other Linux-based operating systems. Huawei says that Harmony OS uses a distributed virtual bus with a simplified protocol: Rather than 4 layers, there is only 1 layer in the protocol stack to boost the payload efficiency. The effects of this change to simplify interactions are faster discovery and connections of hardware like the display, cameras, speakers, etc.
The Harmony OS is built with a deterministic latency engine that gives a smooth interactive experience. That means latency is at a minimum; bringing fluid interactive experience to the maximum. Unlike Android which uses the Linux kernel’s scheduling mechanism, the Harmony OS uses a deterministic latency engine that provides precise resource scheduling with real-time load analysis and forecasting and app characteristics matching. The result is a 25.7% and 55.6% improvement in response latency and latency fluctuation respectively. In addition, Huawei says the microkernel can make IPC [Inter Process Communication] performance up to five times more efficient than existing systems.
Harmony decouples the OS from the hardware, so that developers can develop once and deploy across hardware. Developers will be able to use Huawei’s ARK Compiler to compile code from multiple languages like C/C++, Java, and Kotlin for Harmony OS. Huawei will be providing an IDE to support app development across multiple device types, including televisions, car kits, smart speakers, smartphones, smartwatches, and more. This IDE automatically adapts to varied screen layouts, controls, and interactions and supports drag-and-drop operations and preview-oriented visual programming. Harmony OS will not allow for root access, which Huawei says is a security risk on Android and other Linux-based operating systems. Huawei also announced that the Harmony OS would be open-source, with plans to establish an open-source foundation and create an open-source community for collaboration.
While the Harmony OS was not directly mentioned as being developed for smartphones, the presentation at HDC was clear that could well happen if the case arised. Mr Yu outlined how migration would not be very difficult due to the nature of the microkernel, and that they can switch from Android to Harmony in just 1 or 2 days. While the company announced its intentions to stay with Android on smartphones for the time being, its clear the brand is taking the necessary precautions. On the one hand, Huawei is building up its AppGallery platform as an alternative to the Google Play Store, and at HDC 2019, they also unveiled Huawei Mobile Services as an alternative to Google Play Services.