Looking at the Past, Present, and Future: How Far Can HarmonyOS Go?

The past: Why Huawei developed HarmonyOS

Recently, Wang Chenglu, President of Huawei’s Consumer Business Group Software Engineering Department, gave an interview that shed some light on the early development of HarmonyOS. In the interview, Wang revealed that the idea of developing an OS in house was first pitched to Huawei’s decision makers in 2012, but was only greenlit in 2016. As for the purpose of this new OS, Wang explained “Above all, HarmonyOS is an IoT-oriented OS. Its primary purpose is to empower various devices of different sizes… smart devices, such as TVs, speakers, and head units in cars, are all running different systems. It is difficult to connect them, let alone enable intelligent applications.” He said that the goal had long been to create one OS that could run on many different types of consumer devices, “so that they would all speak a common language.”

The present: Why forming alliances is key

When asked about Huawei’s intentions for HarmonyOS, Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s Consumer BG, was unequivocal. Huawei would, he said, “build an ecosystem that is open to developers and partners.”

HarmonyOS 1.0 made its debut in Huawei’s smart screen products, and its scope was quickly expanded to include all kinds of lightweight household appliances such as smart lights, smart watches and smart kitchen gadgets from various manufacturers. Wang Chenglu, in what he characterized as a conservative estimate, predicted that “300 million devices will run on HarmonyOS this year.” Huawei is also building ties with developers around the world. Even without considering the IoT angle, the software that is required to run apps on a mobile phone is not all located on the device itself. All mobile operating systems rely on countless APIs, hosted in the cloud, that support various functions. They also rely on app distribution channels.

HMS Core, now on its fifth version, provides the APIs that support location services, push notifications, and analytics, among other functions. Huawei responded to the imminent loss of access to GMS by beefing up HMS Core. HMS Core initially offered a paltry 14 kits (suites of APIs that offer a particular kind functionality), but HMS Core 5.0 has 56 kits, and the number of APIs has surged from 885 to 12,981. The number of developers registered with Huawei has reached 1.8 million worldwide. Today, more than 120,000 apps have integrated HMS Core APIs, and the number of active AppGallery users worldwide has reached 530 million. In 2020, AppGallery racked up 384.4 billion downloads. That is an increase of 174 billion compared to the previous year, and it makes AppGallery the world’s third largest mobile application ecosystem. Gaming is at the forefront of this expansion, with 500% more gaming apps on the platform now compared to a year ago. Huawei users were among the first in the world to experience hotly anticipated new games, including AFK Arena, Asphalt 9: Legends, and Clash of Kings.

In an effort to attract more developers, Huawei is also running its Shining Star program. This program has a budget of $1 billion, which it uses to incentivize developers to adapt their apps for HarmonyOS. Zhang Pingan, President of Cloud Service Dept of Huawei Consumer Business Group, laid out Huawei’s goals in this area, saying, “Huawei needs to enable developers to migrate apps to Huawei’s HMS ecosystem in just a few hours.”

For some developers, the real incentive to work with Huawei is not a cash grant from the Shining Star program, but AppGallery itself, and the established user base that it represents. PicsArt was one of the first apps to benefit from Huawei’s large user base in the Chinese mobile market. It has now been downloaded more than 300 million times by Huawei users in China.

The future: OS 2.0

Behind these achievements are the efforts of R&D engineers participating in what is internally referred to as the “Songshan Lake Project”. According to Huawei’s Zhang Pingan, Huawei has gathered a large number of employees at its Songshan Lake Campus, split up into multiple development teams, working day and night on various aspects of this project. “In Huawei’s history, this is the most high-profile and challenging project we have ever taken on, and it requires the largest number of participants.” Zhang Pingan said.

Through all the short-term crises, Huawei has remained focused on its long-term goal of creating an operating system for the Internet of Things. Viewed in this way, HarmonyOS 2.0 is not so much a replacement for Android. Circumstances have forced Huawei to take decisive action now,

Songshan Lake is home to a family of swans. A visitor once remarked that the swans were an apt symbol for Huawei itself: outwardly calm, but “beneath the surface, there was furious paddling”. That is no less true today, as software engineers work tirelessly to build up a fully-fledged HarmonyOS ecosystem.

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