Huawei’s HongMeng OS: Android killer or flop

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The U.S. government has grave concerns about Huawei’s dealings with Iran, as well as Chinese government surveillance of its smartphones and 5G equipment. Another major thorny issue is theft of intellectual property by Huawei from American companies. All of this culminated in Google stating it will no longer allow Android software updates on new Huawei devices.

Now, Huawei, faced with the possibility of being kicked off one of the world’s most popular mobile platforms, is forced to consider a backup plan. Huawei is working on a proprietary operating system for its devices called HongMeng.

Possible official unveiling

A tech industry conference is taking place soon, and rumors are rife that Huawei will reveal details about HongMeng. The event begins on Friday August 9, 2019 in Dongguan, China. We hope to see the operating system user interface, speed, design elements, and judge whether it is anywhere near as intuitive as iOS or Android.

The Chinese have a reputation for being good copycats, but if HongMeng hopes to unseat Android as the most popular mobile operating system, it will have to show us something unique, on top of boasting all the functionalities we’ve come to expect from our smartphone software.

Microkernel

One possible feature of HongMeng we’re excited about is the microkernel. What is a kernel though? It’s made up of several parts:

  • Address Space: Depending on the computer architecture, address spaces are locations where units of data are stored for the system to save and retrieve. It could be physical or virtual space.
  • File System: It is the “librarian” of your device. It allocates the address spaces and remembers where they put different data. It handles the creation, modification, and deletion of files.
  • Threads: These are subsets of a process. Think of them as multiple small tasks which when completed allow culmination of an entire computer process.
  • Inter-process Communication: To save resources and speed up processing time, sometimes it’s better for different computer processes to share a memory or other resources. In short, this is to speed up whatever you’re trying to do on your electronic device.
  • Process Scheduler: Your phone or electronic device has limited Random Access Memory (RAM) which is handling your running applications. A scheduler decides and prioritises which processes should be running and which processes should wait in the queue. It also has a context switcher which allows you to multi-task applications on the smartphone (cycling through apps).
  • Device Drivers: Allow the hardware to understand (read) what the software is ordering it to do. Think of it like a translator between you and the machine.

A microkernel is a minimalist version of a kernel. The benefit is obviously simplicity and modularity. It makes the operating system highly customisable for various applications. All system components only have permissions absolutely necessary to perform a function, which increases system security. Oh, did we mention microkernel based operating systems are less likely to cause random application crashes? That’s definitely a big plus.

HongMeng’s success will depend on whether it is perceived as stable and reliable.

HongMeng Internet of Things

Huawei’s future plans for HongMeng include the Internet of Things (IoT) applications. This means artificial intelligence will play a big part in this operating system’s future. Much depends on whether HongMeng can get basic things right during its initial months.

HongMeng Challenges

Huawei has to provide access to all popular applications like Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger, Twitter, and more in order to be accepted by consumers. Industry buzz indicates the Huawei AppGallery will enable users to download Android applications. The Huawei AppGallery will come natively installed when you buy the device.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean all applications will run smoothly on the HongMeng operating system. Quite clearly the developers of these apps would have designed them for Android devices. iOS is so popular because developers put so much effort into customising and optimising the experience specifically for Apple’s OS. Without that kind of attention to detail from app developers, it remains to be seen how applications will perform on HongMeng. 

Moreover, there are other critical applications which raise security concerns. For example, NFC mobile payments could expose user data to hackers unless Huawei develops a robust microkernel based operating system.

TV everywhere applications of popular U.S. cable TV providers, such as those listed on BuyTVInternetPhone, which run live and on-demand shows and series across devices with synchronisation of playback, need to run seamlessly for the OS to have any hope of success in the U.S.

Probable Hongmeng release date

The first batch of Huawei Devices to get the HongMeng operating system will likely be the Honor Smart TV devices. Besides that, Huawei is currently testing a smartphone with a retail price of under $300 which will be the first mobile device to carry the HongMeng operating system. It is likely the OS will make its debut in China in 2019, and internationally in 2020.

Huawei chairman comments on HongMeng

The Chairman of Huawei, Liang Hua, played down the significance of HongMeng operating system. Mr. Hua stated Huawei’s intention in developing HongMeng isn’t to replace Google’s Android operating system for its cell phones.

It seems the official stance is that HongMeng is a “plan B” for now. In the complicated U.S. - China trade war, Huawei has managed to extract some concessions from the U.S. for the time being enabling the Chinese smartphone giant to continue deploying Android on its flagship devices. However, we fully expect Huawei to drift towards full deployment of HongMeng in the coming years across its device line-up in order to wean itself off dependence on U.S. software.

Robert James, Content Writer, Buytvinternetphone