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Huawei's Harmony OS is just Android in a hat and sunglasses

Android 10
Android 10 (Image credit: Android Central)

What you need to know

  • Huawei's HarmonyOS is a lot less novel than Huawei presents.
  • A deep dive into the operating system revealed a largely unchanged version of Android 10.
  • Huawei says phones running HarmonyOS will ship this year.

As has been assumed, Huawei is moving away from Android this year, in a manner of speaking. The company has been rendered unable to use Google's operating system in any meaningful manner ever since a 2019 U.S. ban prevented it from working with Google and loading the Google Play Store on its devices. Instead, the company throwing all its eggs into its HarmonyOS basket, a new operating system that Huawei has been playing up over the past year as its big Android replacement.

How did Huawei manage to do this? Well, according to ArsTechnica's Ron Amadeo who went poking around in the HarmonyOS emulator, they didn't. Huawei's HarmonyOS is just Huawei's version of Android with any mention of "Android" in the code simply Ctrl+H'd to read "HarmonyOS". It's what Amazon is doing with Fire OS, but the larger company has always been upfront that it was an Android fork. Huawei has presented this as being built up from scratch, something that is more than a little deceptive in hindsight.

Amadeo writes:

After hours of poking around on HarmonyOS, I couldn't point to a single substantive change compared to Android. Other than a few renamed items, nothing is different. If anyone at Huawei wants to dispute this, I would welcome an example of a single thing in the emulator that is functionally or even aesthetically different from Android. If anyone wants to cry "it's just a beta!," Huawei says this OS will be shipping in commercial phones this year. There does not appear to be time to do a major overhaul from "Android" to "Not Android."

Huawei's HarmonyOS being a fork of Android isn't too surprising. It's the logical move to enable mass compatibility with apps people already known and love. Despite building some of the best Android phones, Huawei has seen its marketshare drop over the past two years. Even if Huawei didn't need the Play Store to succeed outside of China, it would be unable to succeed inside China without apps like WeChat. Getting developers to develop bespoke versions of their apps for a new operating system was a staggering task back in 2013 when the market was considerably more fluid — just ask Microsoft and Blackberry. Getting them to do so in 2021? Nigh impossible.

5 Comments
  • Of course the whole company is deceptive so no surprise them claiming that their whole OS is built from scratch. The best line I heard was them saying "one line of Harmony OS code can do the work of 100 lines of Android code" LMAO.
  • Fact is they've massively jumped the gun here. The Beta software is purposely based off Android to allow a transition period for Devs and the like and will gradually shift over to their full in house OS. Try again in a few months and you'll look a little sillier than you normally do
  • Months later their tablet OS is basically a clone of the iPad OS. Very innovative and creative from your Chinese loving company.
  • Great, they discovered Android compatibility layer of the UI. That's meatware for you. I keep seeing articles on how Harmony is a "copy" of Android, and keep wondering what kind of genius can just "migrate" a Linux kernel based OS into a microkernel based OS. If it's that simple, Google would have just "migrated" Android into Fuchsia and be done with it, and GM would have migrated their ICE into electric cars and beat Tesla on the head with it. After wasting my time reading part of that Ars Technica article, skipping over all that whine on passport, no freedumb in Chinaland, bla, bla, bla, I finally figured it out - they thought electric cars are copies of ICE cars because they both look like cars on the outside and have 4 wheels, 5g is a copy of 4g because, you know, g. Basically, cellphones will be rectangles with rounded edges, and UI will look like UI, no matter what's under the hood. It's a feel-good article for meatware who have zero knowledge on what a kernel even is. They just want to feed into the age old trope "everything China makes is a copy of ours, therefore we should feel good for their stuff, instead of feeling bad they got ahead of Fuschsia. Unfortunately, it won't elicit anything but ridicule from anybody that matters - Huawei's Chinese and non-western customer base. Just like how they're laughing at our 4k per day covid dead, they see most hit pieces against them as satire we created against ourselves.
  • And? So what?