Huawei teased HarmonyOS long before friction with the United States cut it off from Google services and other important technology. Tensions between the United States and China only rose on the development and liberalization schedule.
Technically, HarmonyOS is becoming the next major mobile platform, joining Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS with more than 90 percent of all mobile devices installed as operating systems. But Huawei, which is now battling back into the mobile business due to a brief market in 2019, has a greater vision of Harmony. It hopes to pull off what no technical company has yet achieved: creating a single software platform for phones, tablets, computers, televisions, smart home appliances and more.
Despite Huawei’s strong position in the strong Chinese market and after throwing huge resources at Harmony OS, early research revealed that it is free to use open source, most of which is shared with the Android code base. Android, on the other hand, makes extensive use of the code behind the open source Linux operating system.
All together now
Of course, most technology behemoths try to combine the proliferation of their operating systems into a single platform. Apple’s impressive M1 chip has allowed it to connect computers and tablets to a single hardware platform, and its TV screen and phone can’t be far away. It is likely to automatically create a consolidation of half a dozen operating systems. Google may benefit from the introduction of a single version of Android for phones, laptops, TVs and games. Microsoft’s Windows is already unified on computers and tablets, and may soon use the Xbox as well. Samsung’s Tizen operating system has already been introduced on TVs and in some wearables.
The benefits of integrating operating systems are obvious. There are far fewer developers on multiple fronts, fewer upgrades, and less hacker attack space. Most importantly, developers can use the entire digital marketplace with a single application.
Huawei’s bitter experience in the hands of the Trump administration seems to have reinforced its determination to succeed on its own software platform. Already Harmony OS has appeared on TVs and one or two devices, and rumor has it that it will appear on both phones, tablets and wearable in the coming weeks.
Here’s a long and slightly technical explanation from Huawei about the future of its Harmony operating system:
Huawei HarmonyOS: What is a distributed system?
HarmonyOS is a distributed system that integrates multiple physically separate devices into a virtual Super device. HarmonyOS started with a vision of a system where, if you open the map app on your phone and select a destination, as soon as you get in the car, the map will automatically sync to the main unit screen. As you get out of the car, the map changes seamlessly to your watch.
Huawei is currently implementing this vision, and the company claims that the whole process is so intuitive and seamless that users can easily grasp the new operating system. As soon as you get in the car, your phone becomes an extension of the car.
The reason HarmonyOS is so interesting is that it is the first in a future wave of distributed operating systems designed to be used on an interconnected network of car headunits, cell phones, headphones, tablets, televisions, watches, and even very limited devices. accounting functions such as water heaters, washing machines and refrigerators.
What Huawei has done is reduce the size of the system with a “microkernel” and use a modular structure that allows developers to select the applicable code section based on hardware needs. Therefore, although the exact code varies from device to device, all devices in the ecosystem have some code that supports distributed virtual bus, distributed data management, and distributed timing.
Simply put, a distributed virtual bus allows different devices to speak the same language and connect and communicate with each other.
Distributed data management achieves data synchronization between different devices in real time. This is the key to collaboration between different, physically independent devices.
The HarmonyOS distributed file system remotely reads and writes 4-6 times faster than Microsoft’s Samba protocol. HarmonyOS’s OPS is 1.3 times higher than that of an Android content provider. In addition, HarmonyOS supports data reading between devices and Android does not. HarmonyOS’s distributed search capability is 1.2 times faster than Apple’s iOS.
Distributed timing for security
Another feature is distributed timing, which is a measure to ensure distributed security. For example, Huawei in-ear headphones support voice recognition and Huawei phones support fingerprint or face recognition. These authentications are now used separately on different devices. In the future, for some highly sensitive and critical functions, decentralized scheduling will allow the biometric authentication capabilities of multiple devices to be leveraged to improve security. In a connected device network, the operating system can easily use multiple devices for user authentication. This is a significant difference between HarmonyOS and other operating systems. It is not an operating system exclusively for phones or headsets. It can work on any smart device.
With shared technology, devices with poor computing power can enjoy better security by taking advantage of the security features of other devices. For example, a smart TV has more computing power than a router, but with distributed technology, a television can help identify and reduce potential risks to the router by using the computing resources of the television to execute security algorithms. Simply put, devices can share their capabilities with each other, and this includes security features. In theory, the security of the entire distributed system corresponds to the security of the most secure device in the system.
In short, when the hardware is connected wirelessly via a distributed virtual bus, other connected devices can use the features of each device. The features of the two devices can be used together to support a single application.
Earlier operating systems were often limited to certain types of hardware. For example, Android only works on phones and tablets. The Android interface allows you to control the flashlight on your phone, but not the smart lamp at home. When you stream a video through the phone application, you can watch it on the phone screen, but not on the TV. In the past, we took these limitations for granted, but decentralized technology takes us further than we expect, allowing for capacity sharing between a wide variety of complementary devices.
Currently, we can only control other devices with another app, which is by no means convenient. Awareness of this is why Huawei emphasizes so much the seamlessness of the consumer experience. However, you need more of this to have a fully functional distributed system. The biggest hurdle for distributed systems in consumer mode is how unreliable the device connection can be.
Huawei HarmonyOS is a “heterogeneous and asymmetric distributed system” because the system basically connects different devices. One distributed system can have a mobile phone with 8 cores and 12GB of memory, a router with 1 core and 512MB of memory, and multiple IoT devices with very limited computing capacities such as water heaters, microwave ovens, and smart lamps. Coordinating devices with computing capacity that can range in the tens of thousands is a huge challenge. In addition, these devices are mostly connected wirelessly via Wi-Fi / Bluetooth instead of fiber optics, which means that speed is limited and connection reliability is difficult to guarantee. Finding and connecting devices in a wireless system is another problem that has long plagued distributed systems for consumer use.
Huawei uses three techniques to solve this problem: heterogeneous connected networks (discussed), self-discovery and networking, and dynamic delay calibration. Self-discovery requires devices to always have Bluetooth / Wi-Fi enabled, and quick discovery requires devices to constantly search their environment to find compatible devices, but this has the unfortunate side effect of draining the battery. After all, it’s about finding a balance.
Dynamic delay calibration
Dr. Wang Chenglu, Chairman of the Software Engineering Division of Huawei Consumer Business Group, explained the concept of dynamic delay calibration with an example that includes audio and video synchronization. In his example, the sound and image of the video are transferred to a pair of headphones and a television. The latency of the two devices is inevitably different due to the use of two different physical channels, and this causes desynchronization. One way to synchronize audio and video is to artificially add a small delay to an image display that has a shorter delay than audio. Because the delay is not a fixed value and varies with QoS (quality of service), a delay prediction algorithm is needed to dynamically coordinate the display and audio delay of the image.
HarmonyOS applications are released in the Huawei AppGallery application package format, which consists of one or more feature properties (FA) and atomic capabilities (AA). An FA is a suite of programs (with a user interface) that invites AA to perform complex functions, while AA is a non-UI suite of programs developed by a third party to perform a single function. AAs are independent of each other and designed to meet certain user requirements. Different devices automatically charge FAs and AAs as needed. In this way, developers only need to develop one application package that can be deployed on multiple devices.
To some extent, Huawei has incorporated these technologies into EMUI 11, which is the version of the Android version currently running on Huawei smartphones. However, Android is not designed to support all distributed features. HarmonyOS, an operating system designed from the ground up with distributed technology, promises to do much more with these technologies than EMUI 11 or any other version of Android. Other vendors are now following the model and developing distributed technology to support features such as multi-display collaboration, but Huawei is a priority. Huawei is committed to making HarmonyOS fully open source, and a significant amount of source code was released to developers in late December last year.
What are the benefits of a decentralized system?
For home appliance manufacturers, the growth of decentralized systems may allow them to offer enhanced functionality for which consumers are willing to pay a premium, which will increase their profits.
For developers, HarmonyOS offers a diverse range of packages to implement various features. Because developers don’t have to start from scratch and write thousands of lines of code, they can greatly improve their development efficiency. Consumers can enjoy the convenience of sharing device features and seamless interaction. In addition, it’s likely that we’ll see unexpected uses of HarmonyOS that have benefits that no one could have expected.