- Chinese tech firms like NetEase and JD.com are actively hiring HarmonyOS developers, signaling a widespread industry response to Huawei’s announcement of HarmonyOS Next.
- HarmonyOS Next will not be compatible with Android code or apps, instead relying on a proprietary runtime. A preview of the new software is expected in Q1 2024.
- The decision to deprecate Android app support has led to a rush among businesses to develop apps for HarmonyOS, with higher salaries offered to attract developers. The success of this move remains uncertain, considering the potential impact on millions of devices in China.
Chinese tech megabrand Huawei has been brought to bear over the last several years by a trade injunction from the United States. The Trump-era ban on sourcing a variety of not just hardware but software from American suppliers has set the company on the path it has trod since then – working towards a comprehensive, unified, multi-device operating system of its own called HarmonyOS. Yet, four odd years after its launch, it remains more or less a de-Googlefied fork of Android. However, that’s about to change as we hear from an executive on the way forward for HarmonyOS.
What’s the big deal about HarmonyOS Next?
The key development that’s been driving HarmonyOS into the news cycle this week is reporting (via 9to5Google) that Chinese tech firms such as MMO game operator NetEase, retailer JD.com, and delivery service Meituan are rushing to fill developer positions with a focus on coding for HarmonyOS. That’s a big deal because it marks a clear industry-wide response to the announcement Huawei made back at its annual developers’ conference this summer that the next version of HarmonyOS – aspirationally dubbed HarmonyOS Next – will eschew compatibility with the Android Open Source Project.
HarmonyOS Next won’t be able to read Android code or run Android apps. Instead, it will exclusively use a proprietary runtime that has been in the works with HarmonyOS since its inception. A preview of the new software is due out during the first quarter of 2024.
What’s the story on HarmonyOS so far?
The first version of HarmonyOS came out in 2019 and was much like its existing EMUI Android skin that appeared on Huawei phones in China. To comply with national security laws, phones sold in that country generally don’t come with the Google Play Store or other Google services such as Google One, Google Maps, YouTube, and others. The aesthetic design was tweaked a bit, but if you bought a HarmonyOS device, you could still use it like any other Android device and run Android apps off it. That said, HarmonyOS is meant to work on other devices, such as TVs, personal computers, and IoT appliances. But it took until 2021 before Huawei really pushed HarmonyOS (which, by then, had reached version 2.0) to its vast portfolio of supported phones in China. The company launched version 3 in 2022 and rolled out version 4 this summer.
For a short time after the initial round of sanctions, it seemed that the company was hoping for a forthcoming break with the Biden administration so that it could re-establish a relationship with Google to supply the Play Store on phones bound for outside of China. Worsening ties overall between Beijing and Washington have, however, motivated Huawei to forge its own path, at least on domestic devices. Huawei is still interested in maintaining EMUI and its use of Android for devices outside of China. The Mate X3 and P60 Pro devices Pocket-lint reviewed this year were both stocked with EMUI, though without the Google Play Store.
What will be the impact of HarmonyOS Next?
Up to this point, most app makers have focused on delivering their products to the mainstream platforms – Android, iOS, Mac, Windows, you get the idea. The Chinese developer community wasn’t initially impressed by HarmonyOS at launch and, thus far, hasn’t coded many apps for the platform using the non-Android runtime. With HarmonyOS Next deprecating support for Android apps, major businesses are now scrambling to get HarmonyOS apps out the door, incentivizing potential employees with above-average salaries.
Counterpoint Research reports Chinese phone buyers flocked to Huawei in October, with sales up 90 per cent over the same month last year, so you might be able to discern that business in China may come to a crisis point with millions upon millions of devices potentially losing access to Android apps in the near future. We’ll have to see if Huawei’s decision will pay off for HarmonyOS Next’s app ecosystem.