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Huawei unveils HarmonyOS

Barely three months after the US government tried to block Huawei from using Android, it has delivered its own mobile operating system. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK and BRYAN TURNER dig deeper

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Less than three months after US president Donald Trump barred US companies from doing business with Huawei – regarded at the time as a deadly blow to its handset business – the company has unveiled its won, long-awaited mobile operating system.

At the Huawei Developer Conference this week, Huawei Consumer Business Group CEO Richard Yu launched HarmonyOS, or HongmengOS in Chinese. It is described as a microkernel-based, distributed operating system designed to deliver a cohesive user experience across all devices and scenarios.

“We’re entering a day and age where people expect a holistic intelligent experience across all devices and scenarios,” said Yu, suggesting that the OS would have been released even had there been no threat to Huawei’s use of Google’s Android  OS.

“We felt it was important to have an operating system with improved cross-platform capabilities,” he said. “We needed an OS that supports all scenarios, that can be used across a broad range of devices and platforms, and that can meet consumer demand for low latency and strong security.”

“HarmonyOS is completely different from Android and iOS. It is a microkernel-based, distributed OS that delivers a smooth experience across all scenarios. It has trustworthy and secure architecture, and it supports seamless collaboration across devices. You can develop your apps once, then flexibly deploy them across a range of different devices.”

For those of us who aren’t computer scientists, microkernel-based operating systems are a highly optimised version of regular operating systems that are designed to run on far fewer functions. This translates to lower power required to run the hardware, which means better battery life for the consumer when compared to the fully-fledged Linux kernel on Android OS.

Enabling a “develop once, deploy everywhere” has been a dream to Android developers for a very long time. The pain of how far manufacturers can customise Android has resulted in developers spending far more time on customising apps for various Android phones than they needed to. If Huawei can get this right, they will assert themselves as the “Apple of China” in eyes of development ease.

It appears, the, that Huawei has in mind not an alternative to Android, but a platform on which it can roll put any category of device, and provide any category of service.

Huawei says that, as early as 10 years ago, it “envisioned a future where intelligence would seamlessly integrate with all aspects of our lives, and it began exploring how it might deliver this experience – one that would transcend the boundaries of physical space and span different hardware and platforms”.

The company says HarmonyOS is a lightweight, compact operating system, and will first be used for smart devices like smart watches, smart screens, in-vehicle systems, and smart speakers. 

“Through this implementation Huawei aims to establish an integrated and shared ecosystem across devices, create a secure and reliable runtime environment, and deliver a holistic intelligent experience across every interaction with every device.”

Huawei provided the following information on the technical features of HarmonyOS:

1. Seamless: First-ever device OS with distributed architecture, delivering a seamless experience across devices

By adopting distributed architecture and distributed virtual bus technology, HarmonyOS offers a shared communications platform, distributed data management, distributed task scheduling, and virtual peripherals. With HarmonyOS, app developers won’t have to deal with the underlying technology for distributed apps, allowing them to focus on their own individual service logic. Developing distributed apps will be easier than ever before. Apps built on HarmonyOS can run on different devices while delivering a seamless, collaborative experience across all scenarios.

2. Smooth: Deterministic Latency Engine and high-performance IPC

HarmonyOS will address underperformance challenges with a Deterministic Latency Engine and high-performance Inter Process Communication (IPC). The Deterministic Latency Engine sets task execution priorities and time limits for scheduling in advance. Resources will gravitate toward tasks with higher priorities, reducing the response latency of apps by 25.7%. The microkernel can make IPC performance up to five times more efficient than existing systems.

3. Secure: Microkernel architecture that reshapes security and trustworthiness from the ground up

HarmonyOS uses a brand-new microkernel design that features enhanced security and low latency. This microkernel was designed to simplify kernel functions, implement as many system services as possible in user mode outside the kernel, and add mutual security protection. The microkernel itself provides only the most basic services like thread scheduling and IPC.

Harmony OS’s microkernel design uses formal verification methods to reshape security and trustworthiness from the ground up in a Trusted Execution Environment (TEE). Formal verification methods are an effective mathematical approach to validate system correctness from the source, while traditional verification methods, such as functional verification and attack simulation, are confined to limited scenarios. Formal methods, by contrast, can use data models to verify all software running paths.

HarmonyOS is the first OS to use formal verification in device TEE, significantly improving security. In addition, because the HarmonyOS microkernel has much less code (roughly one-thousandth the amount of the Linux kernel), the probability of attack is greatly reduced.

4. Unified: Multi-device IDE allows apps to be developed once and deployed across multiple devices

Powered by a multi-device IDE, multi-language unified compilation, and a distributed architecture kit, HarmonyOS can automatically adapt to different screen layout controls and interactions, and support both drag-and-drop control and preview-oriented visual programming. This allows developers to more efficiently build apps that run on multiple devices. With a multi-device IDE, developers can code their apps once and deploy them across multiple devices, creating a tightly integrated ecosystem across all user devices.

The HUAWEI ARK Compiler is the first static compiler that can perform on par with Android’s virtual machine, enabling developers to compile a broad range of advanced languages into machine code in a single, unified environment. By supporting unified compilation in multiple languages, the HUAWEI ARK Compiler will help developers greatly improve their productivity.

Developer plan and ecosystem development

At today’s conference, Huawei also announced the evolution roadmap for HarmonyOS and its kernel. HarmonyOS 1.0 will be first adopted in its smart screen products, which are due to launch later this year. Over the next three years, HarmonyOS will be optimized and gradually adopted across a broader range of smart devices, including wearables, HUAWEI Vision, and head units for your car.

The success of HarmonyOS will depend on a dynamic ecosystem of apps and developers. To encourage broader adoption, Huawei will release HarmonyOS as an open-source platform, worldwide. Huawei will also establish an open-source foundation and an open-source community to support more in-depth collaboration with developers.

China is home to a strong app ecosystem and a massive user base. Moving forward, Huawei will lay the foundations for HarmonyOS in the Chinese market, and then expand it further to the global ecosystem. With a focus on providing new and unique value, Huawei will open up and share its core capabilities in areas like connectivity, cameras, and AI. It will work closely with ecosystem partners to deliver apps and services that provide consumers with the best possible experience and bring new life to the industry.

HarmonyOS will bring incredible new benefits to consumers, equipment vendors, and developers. For consumers, it will bring a cohesive and powerful intelligent experience across all aspects of their lives. For equipment vendors, it will help them gain a first-mover advantage in the age of holistic intelligent experience, where 5G, AI, and IoT will see explosive growth. At the same time, HarmonyOS will enable developers to win over more users with less investment, and rapidly innovate services across all scenarios.

“We believe HarmonyOS will revitalize the industry and enrich the ecosystem,” said Richard Yu. “Our goal is to bring people a truly engaging and diverse experience. We want to invite developers from around the world to join us as we build out this new ecosystem. Together, we will deliver an intelligent experience for consumers in all scenarios.”

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Tech promotes connections across groups in emerging markets

Digital technology users say they more regularly interact with people from diverse backgrounds

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Smartphone users – especially those who use social media – say they are more regularly exposed to people who have different backgrounds. They are also more connected with friends they don’t see in person, a Pew Research Center survey of adults in 11 emerging economies finds.

South Africa, included in the study, has among the most consistent levels of connection across age groups and education levels and in terms of cross-cultural connections. This suggests both that smartphones have had a greater democratisation impact in South Africa, but also that the country is more geared to diversity than most others. Of 11 countries surveyed, it has the second-lowest spread between those using smartphones and those not using them in terms of exposure to other religious groups.

Across every country surveyed, those who use smartphones are more likely than those who use less sophisticated phones or no phones at all to regularly interact with people from different religious groups. In most countries, people with smartphones also tend to be more likely to interact regularly with people from different political parties, income levels and racial or ethnic backgrounds. 

The Center’s new report is the third in a series exploring digital connectivity among populations in emerging economies based on nationally representative surveys of adults in Colombia, India, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, the Philippines, Tunisia, South Africa, Venezuela and Vietnam. Earlier reports examined attitudes toward misinformation and mobile technology’s social impact

The survey finds that smartphone and social media use are intertwined: A median of 91% of smartphone users in these countries also use social media or messaging apps, while a median of 81% of social media users say they own or share a smartphone. And, as with smartphone users, social media and messaging app users stand apart from non-users in how often they interact with people who are different from them. For example, 52% of Mexican social media users say they regularly interact with people of a different income level, compared with 28% of non-users. 

These results do not show with certainty that smartphones or social media are the cause of people feeling like they have more diverse networks. For example, those who have resources to buy and maintain a smartphone are likely to differ in many key ways from those who don’t, and it could be that some combination of those differences drives this phenomenon. Still, statistical modelling indicates that smartphone and social media use are independent predictors of greater social network diversity when other factors such as age, education and sex are held constant. 

Other key findings in the report include: 

  • Mobile phones and social media are broadening people’s social networks. More than half in most countries say they see in person only about half or fewer of the people they call or text. Mobile phones are also allowing many to stay in touch with people who live far away: A median of 93% of mobile phone users across the 11 countries surveyed say their phones have mostly helped them keep in touch with those who are far-flung. When it comes to social media, large shares report relationships with “friends” online who are distinct from those they see in person. A median of 46% of Facebook users across the 11 countries report seeing few or none of their Facebook friends in person regularly, compared with a median of 31% of Facebook users who often see most or all of their Facebook friends in person. 
  • Social activities and information seeking on subjects like health and education top the list of mobile activities. The survey asked mobile phone users about 10 different activities they might do on their mobile phones – activities that are social, information-seeking or commercial in nature. Among the most commonly reported activities are casual, social activities. For example, a median of 82% of mobile phone users in the 11 countries surveyed say they used their phone over the past year to send text messages and a median of 69% of users say they took pictures or videos. Many mobile phone users are also using their phones to find new information. For example, a median of 61% of mobile phone users say they used their phones over the past year to look up information about health and medicine for themselves or their families. This is more than the proportion that reports using their phones to get news and information about politics (median of 47%) or to look up information about government services (37%). Additionally, around half or more of mobile phone users in nearly all countries report having used their phones over the past 12 months to learn something important for work or school. 
  • Digital divides emerge in the new mobile-social environment. People with smartphones and social media – as well as younger people, those with higher levels of education, and men – are in some ways reaping more benefits than others, potentially contributing to digital divides. 
    • People with smartphones are much more likely to engage in activities on their phones than people with less sophisticated devices – even if the activity itself is quite simple. For example, people with smartphones are more likely than those with feature or basic phones to send text messages in each of the 11 countries surveyed, even though the activity is technically feasible from all mobile phones. Those who have smartphones are also much more likely to look up information for their households, including about health and government services. 
    •  There are also major differences in mobile usage by age and education level in how their devices are – or are not – broadening their horizons. Younger people are more likely to use their phones for nearly all activities asked about, whether those activities are social, information-seeking or commercial. Phone users with higher levels of education are also more likely to do most activities on their phones and to interact with those who are different from them regularly than those with lower levels of education. 
    •  Gender, too, plays a role in what people do with their devices and how they are exposed to different people and information. Men are more likely than women to say they encounter people who are different from them, whether in terms of race, politics, religion or income. And men tend to be more likely to look up information about government services and to obtain political news and information. 

These findings are drawn from a Pew Research Center survey conducted among 28,122 adults in 11 countries from Sept. 7 to Dec. 7, 2018. In addition to the survey, the Center conducted focus groups with participants in Kenya, Mexico, the Philippines and Tunisia in March 2018, and their comments are included throughout the report. 

Read the full report at https://www.pewinternet.org/2019/08/22/in-emerging-economies-smartphone-and-social-media-users-have-broader-social-networks.

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Nokia to be first with Android 10

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Nokia is likely to be the first smartphone brand to roll out Android 10, after its manufacturer, HMD Global, announced that the Android 10 software upgrade would start in the fourth quarter of 2019.

Previously named Android Q, it was given the number after Google announced it was ditching sweet and dessert names due to confusion in different languages. Android 10 is due for release at the end of the year.

Juho Sarvikas, chief product officer of HMD Global said: “With a proven track record in delivering software updates fast, Nokia smartphones were the first whole portfolio to benefit from a 2-letter upgrade from Android Nougat to Android Oreo and then Android Pie. We were the fastest manufacturer to upgrade from Android Oreo to Android Pie across the range. 

“With today’s roll out plan we look set to do it even faster for Android Pie to Android 10 upgrades. We are the only manufacturer 100% committed to having the latest Android across the entire portfolio.”

HMD Global has given a guarantee that Nokia smartphone owners benefit from two years of OS upgrades and 3 years of security updates.

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