Huawei launching its own operating system is major news, because it effectively allows Huawei to control its entire production cycle from hardware to software down to the eco-system, and if successful, Harmony OS (aka Hongmeng OS inside China) will have major ramifications on not just the mobile tech industry, but potentially shift the balance of power in the trade and tech dispute between U.S. and China right now.
And so it is a bit surprising that the first time we’re seeing Harmony OS is on a product that doesn’t have the name Huawei in the title.
This product is the Honor Vision, which is essentially a smart TV. Yeah, yeah, I know, “smart TVs are boring as hell,” you say. But Huawei is aiming to do a lot more than just let you watch reruns of Fresh Prince.
Let’s get the TV part out of the way: the Vision has a 55-inch 4K HDR display, and the screen is almost mostly bezel-less on three sides, with a screen-to-body ratio of 94%. It’s a nice looking TV, though most new TVs nowadays look pretty nice. But here’s the thing, Honor’s selling the Vision (the top configuration with 32GB of internal storage) for just 4799 yuan, which is like $679 American bucks. That’s wild. Other 4K 55-inch TVs on the market from reputable brands tend to be priced over US$1,500.
So HarmonyOS on the Vision is a clean, minimal looking UI that resembles those illegal Chinese TV boxes with bootlegged movies — think large, colorful icons and a swiping interface that goes left to right. Harmony OS obviously allows the Honor Vision to access all of China’s most popular video streaming services and do basic internet and television things, but below are specific features that make the Honor Vision a more ambitious product than just a smart TV.
Just like the Vivo Nex, or the OnePlus 7 Pro, or the Xiaomi Mi 9T, or the Honor 9X, or Vivo X27 Pro (you get the idea…), the Honor Vision has a pop-up selfie camera! It’s used for obvious things like video calls and selfies but Harmony OS can easily bring more advanced features such as motion and facial tracking. In fact, during Huawei’s Developer Conference, I checked out this app that lets a camera to track body movements down to the joints and posture. I could see this running on the Honor Vision, allowing for Microsoft Kinect-style games.
Turn the Vision into a giant display for Huawei/Honor phones
Of course the Honor Vision is highly compatible with existing Huawei phones. And one of the cool things we can do is tap a Huawei/Honor phone on the Vision’s remote and immediately broadcast the phone’s content to the TV. It works immediately and allows the user to watch whatever is on their phone, on the 55-inch screen. Imagine browsing through Instagram on the thing.
Become an IoT smarthome hub
Harmony OS has been getting a lot of press lately, mainly because Trump has been attacking Huawei nonstop and many are speculating Huawei will use its own OS to avoid reliance on Android. Well I’ve spoken with Huawei execs and I’ve been told that’s a worst case scenario. For now, Huawei phones will still use, or try to use, Android OS. Instead, Harmony OS was built by Huawei to run the company’s growing IoT eco-system.
During the launch announcement, Honor showed the Honor Vision acting as the central hub of an entire smarthome eco-system. The Vision has an NPU (neural processing unit) chip in it that handles A.I. tasks, and in the demo booth I was able to use voice commands to have the Vision turn on a set of lights in a mock living room. It’s worth noting that the voice assistant only supports Mandarin Chinese.
Should be a hit in China
There are many other ways one can use the Vision, such as using the voice assistant to launch videos or connect a Huawei/Honor phone and use that as a remote for the Vision. But ultimately, because Harmony OS only supports Chinese apps for now, it seems like only those who live in China and/or are invested in China’s app ecosystem — which is drastically different from what the rest of the world use — should consider the Vision.