Is HarmonyOS 4 a viable alternative to Android? Here’s everything you need to know about Huawei’s open-source mobile operating system, including its core features, the latest build, and its pros and cons…

Key Takeaways: HarmonyOS

HarmonyOS represents Huawei’s ambitious endeavor to offer an alternative to Android for its consumer electronics range. The concept is innovative, featuring several appealing innovations.

Is it a viable alternative to Android? No – not even close. HarmonyOS does not run Android apps, there’s no support for Google Play or any other major apps. Instead, users have to make do with oddly designed, copies like Petal for navigation. Not ideal.

  • 🌐 Distributed OS: HarmonyOS is designed to work across various devices, from smartphones to IoT devices, aiming for seamless connectivity and data transfer.
  • 📱 Multi-device Compatibility: Targets easy interaction and data sharing among Huawei devices, enhancing user experience in a multi-device ecosystem.
  • 💾 Lightweight and Adaptive: Utilizes a minimalistic kernel that’s efficient on devices with varied processing capabilities, from wearables to high-end phones.
  • 🔒 Enhanced Security: Focuses on robust security features, including data isolation and user authentication, prioritizing user privacy and safety.
  • 🚫 Different App Ecosystem: Relies on Huawei Mobile Services (HMS) instead of Google Mobile Services (GMS), affecting the availability of popular Google apps.
  • 📈 Proprietary System: Unlike Android’s open-source nature, HarmonyOS is proprietary, controlled by Huawei, which might limit its customization and development by third parties.

Imagine a world where your smartphone, tablet, smart TV, and even your car all work together seamlessly, sharing data and functionality with ease. That’s the vision behind Huawei’s HarmonyOS.

And it is a bold vision too, especially when Android and iOS control upwards of 99.9% of the smartphone market and while HarmonyOS stands zero chance of replacing Android or iOS as the de facto OS for most people, it is nice to see a company trying new things in mobile OS development.

As a journalist, I could never recommend anyone switch to HarmonyOS over iOS or Android for one simple reason: you don’t get access to core features that make Android phones, well… Android phones. Stuff like Chrome, YouTube, Gmail, Google Drive – you do not get any of these things with HarmonyOS because of US sanctions.

What is HarmonyOS?

HarmonyOS is a distributed operating system designed to work across a wide range of devices, from smartphones and tablets to smart TVs and IoT (Internet of Things) devices.

It’s Huawei’s answer to the dominance of Android and iOS in the mobile world, offering a fresh take on how our devices should interact and collaborate.

How does HarmonyOS work? HarmonyOS is built on a microkernel architecture, which allows it to be highly adaptable and secure. This means that the operating system can be customized for different types of devices, while still maintaining a high level of security and stability.

It also supports loads of developer languages: Java, C/C++, JavaScript, Kotlin, Swift, and Dart.

One of the key features of HarmonyOS is its ability to create a “Super Device” experience. This means that you can connect and share data between your HarmonyOS devices, creating a cohesive ecosystem that adapts to your needs.

For example, you could start watching a movie on your smartphone, then easily switch to your smart TV without missing a beat.

How is HarmonyOS Different From Android?

While HarmonyOS and Android share some similarities, there are some key differences between the two operating systems:

  • Architecture: HarmonyOS uses a microkernel architecture, while Android uses a modified Linux kernel. This allows HarmonyOS to be more adaptable and secure.
  • Cross-device collaboration: HarmonyOS is designed from the ground up to facilitate seamless collaboration between devices, something that Android has struggled with.
  • App development: HarmonyOS supports multiple programming languages and allows developers to create apps that can run on multiple devices with minimal modifications.

What Are The Main Drawbacks of HarmonyOS?

Despite its promising features, HarmonyOS does have some pretty significant drawbacks (especially if you’re used to doing things inside Apple and Google’s mobile operating systems). Here’s a few of the biggest:

  1. Limited app ecosystem: As a newer operating system, HarmonyOS currently has a smaller app ecosystem compared to Android and iOS. This may limit its appeal to users who rely on a wide variety of apps.
  2. Uncertainty around global availability: Due to ongoing political tensions and trade restrictions, it’s unclear how widely available HarmonyOS devices will be outside of China.
  3. Learning curve for users: While HarmonyOS shares some similarities with Android, there will still be a learning curve for users who are accustomed to other mobile operating systems.

HarmonyOS uses Huawei Mobile Services (HMS), while Android relies on Google Mobile Services (GMS). These competing ecosystems have their own sets of APIs, libraries, and services that apps depend on. As a result, Google apps designed for GMS may not function properly on HMS-based HarmonyOS.

Another factor preventing Google from officially offering its apps on HarmonyOS relates to security and licensing issues – the US government does not want Huawei using Google services on its phones.

Can you run Google apps on HarmonyOS? Kind of – but it is super-long winded. You can – potentially – sideload Google apps inside HarmonyOS but this comes with its own set of risks and performance issues:

  • Security Risks: Sideloaded apps may be tampered with or contain malware, putting your device and personal data at risk. Without the security checks provided by official app stores, you’re more vulnerable to cyber threats.
  • Unreliable Performance: Google apps designed for GMS may not function properly on HMS-based HarmonyOS. You may experience glitches, crashes, or missing features, leading to a frustrating user experience.
  • Potential App Bans: Using unauthorized methods to access Google apps violates Huawei’s terms of service which could result in a ban or being blocked from running the OS properly on your phone.

Huawei wants you to use AppGallery instead which, again, isn’t ideal. Yes, there are Gmail and Maps alternatives but in my experience they’re generally garbage. Even with the latest build of HarmonyOS, HarmonyOS 4, this app-gap is still a massive issue for Huawei’s mobile platform.

HarmonyOS 4 Features

HarmonyOS: What You Need To Know [2024 Guide]Pin

Given tensions between the West and China, HarmonyOS is never going to be a major player in the smartphone market. At least, not inside the US markets anyway. But from a purely technical standpoint, HarmonyOS does have quite a few interesting features that separate it from iOS and Android.

  • Dynamic Island Style UI: One of the most striking features of HarmonyOS 4 is its Dynamic Island Style UI. This intuitive interface introduces dynamic islands that can change shape, color, and position based on user interaction, creating a more engaging and personalized experience.
  • Live Windows Multitasking: Users can manage multiple applications on a single screen using simple gestures, allowing for seamless switching between tasks and enhanced productivity.
  • Super Device Concept: HarmonyOS 4 takes device connectivity to the next level with its Super Device concept. This feature enables smooth collaboration and resource sharing among multiple devices using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, creating a truly interconnected ecosystem.
  • Smart Assistant: The built-in AI-powered Smart Assistant offers personalized assistance by learning from user behavior and context. It can handle various tasks, making the user experience more efficient and tailored to individual needs.

Performance and Security

HarmonyOS 4 boasts significant performance optimizations, incorporating technologies like GPU Turbo and Link Turbo for enhanced graphics and internet connectivity. The microkernel architecture and TEE (Trusted Execution Environment) technology ensure improved security, protecting user data and privacy.

Comparison with Other Operating Systems

Unlike Android or iOS, HarmonyOS 4 is a distinct operating system that combines the strengths of various platforms. It offers unique features like distributed capabilities and a unified development framework, setting it apart from its competitors. The microkernel architecture allows HarmonyOS to run on a variety of hardware platforms and adapt to different screen sizes and input methods, making it highly versatile.

Benefits for Users and Developers

For users, HarmonyOS 4 offers a unified and intelligent experience across devices. Features like task switching, personalized AI assistance, and customization options enhance usability and convenience. Developers benefit from a simplified development environment that supports multiple programming languages, making it easier to create cross-device applications.

Compatibility and Collaborative Features

One of the key strengths of HarmonyOS 4 is its ability to interconnect with devices running other operating systems. Through the Super Device feature, users can share resources and manage devices in a unified manner, regardless of the underlying OS. This collaborative symbiosis breaks down barriers between different platforms, creating a more cohesive user experience.

Present and Future Expansion

Currently, HarmonyOS 4 is available on select Huawei models, but the company plans to expand its compatibility to a broader range of devices in the near future. This expansion underscores Huawei’s commitment to enhancing user experiences and promoting an interconnected device ecosystem.

Is It Worth Ditching Android For HarmonyOS?

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HarmonyOS is an impressive piece of software, conceptually. The design and the thought process that has gone into it to make it not only scalable across multiple types of devices but also very easy to develop for is commendable. 

It does have certain USPs over both Android and iOS in this context. A developer can literally create an app for one device and it’ll scale across all types of HarmonyOS-powered devices, and that is really cool.

But it has one massive problem: 99.9% of users – especially those in the west – are accustomed to using Google services (Chrome, Gmail, The Google Play Store, Drive) and without these things, HarmonyOS is effectively unusable. 

Can you imagine running a phone that didn’t have YouTube, Gmail, or even a proper app store? I can’t. And most people feel the same. That’s why, outside of China, HarmonyOS is effectively a dead platform. And without changes to US foreign policy, this isn’t going to change any time soon.  

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Can HarmonyOS run Android apps? Yes, HarmonyOS 4 supports running Android apps through its Android runtime environment. However, the OS also encourages developers to create native HarmonyOS apps for optimal performance and integration.
  2. How does cross-device integration work in HarmonyOS? HarmonyOS 4’s Super Device feature allows seamless connectivity and collaboration among multiple devices using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. This enables users to share resources, transfer files, and control devices from a single interface, creating a truly interconnected experience.
  3. What are the main user interface differences between HarmonyOS and Android? HarmonyOS 4 introduces a Dynamic Island Style UI, which features dynamic islands that can change shape, color, and position based on user interaction. This creates a more engaging and personalized experience compared to the traditional Android UI. Additionally, the Live Windows feature in HarmonyOS 4 allows for more intuitive multitasking and app management.

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