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Huawei's "All New" HarmonyOS Isn't Build From Scratch, But Is a Forked Mod of Android 10

Huawei logo. (Image: Reuters)

Huawei logo. (Image: Reuters)

Huawei claims that its HarmonyOS is a competitor to Google's Android and Apple's iOS. The company also claims that HarmonyOS is completely different from Android and iOS.

Chinese smartphone maker Huawei is banned from doing any business with any US company since 2019. Given that the company has been cut off from access to most chip and software suppliers, Huawei is working on its own HiSilicon brand for chips and its HarmonyOS for software. HarmonyOS, version 2 of which was released in December 2020, is Huawei’s attempt at an in-house OS which aims to be a competitor Android and iOS. Huawei claims that its HarmonyOS is completely different from Android and iOS nor is it a copy of Google’s Android or Apple’s iOS. However, that is far from true. According to a recent lowdown of Huawei’s in-house operating system, the software is essentially an Android 10 fork.

According to a report in ArtsTechnica, who accessed the Huawei operating system’s software development kits (SDK) and dug deep into the HarmonyOS code, the software looks exactly like Android with no major changes. An ArtsTechnica writer, who applied for the HarmonyOS SDK, said that HarmonyOS is largely the same thing as Android 10, with just a few strings changed. After going through a very intrusive two-day background check (which requires developers to send a photo of their passport and credit card as well), ArtsTechnica got the access to Huawei’s operating system. The report notes that the emulator for Huawei’s HarmonyOS also requires developers to run a ‘remote emulator’ and not an emulator that runs locally on their device.

The report says that after going through the painful procedure of verifying and running the ‘remote emulator’, HarmonyOS feels very similar to Android from the get go. “You get your first inkling of HarmonyOS’ Android-ness when you boot up the phone. Indeed, you’re presented with an exact copy of Huawei’s “EMUI" Android skin, but the “About" screen now says “HarmonyOS" and has been scrubbed of all mentions of Android," the report says.

It says that just looking at the app info screen confirms that the phone runs on Android. Developers also see apps like ‘Android Services Library,’ Android Shared Library,’ ‘com.Android.systemui.overlay,’ and more for about 10 different entities. Even if you look at the app info for the ‘HarmonyOS System’ package, you’ll see it uses the Android system icon as well as a label saying ‘Version 10’ on HarmonyOS version 2 (the ‘version 10’ is a reference to Android 10). Even on the ‘Huawei App Gallery,’ you can choose from any number of ‘system info’ apps, which will all identify the smartphone as running on Android 10 Q.

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The ArtsTechnica report also says that HarmonyOS feels way too complete for a beta version of the software, and says that Huawei’s engineers have perfectly copied every single Android 10 feature - from gesture navigation, to the permissions system, to the notification panel. Further, the developer support Huawei seems to have lined up is too good to be true. The Huawei App Gallery has apps from Google, Amazon, TikTok, WeChat, Tencent, Weibo, Evernote, and more. There are also thousands of app reviews that go back several years, much before Huawei was banned from doing business with American companies.

The ArtsTechnica report says that Huawei’s main contribution to HarmonyOS is the same thing it contributes to its builds of Android in China - replace Google Play ecosystem with Huawei alternatives.

What Huawei has done with HarmonyOS is similar to Amazon’s FireOS, which is also an Android fork. However, Amazon discloses the fact that its FireOS is built over Android. Huawei, on the other hand, says that HarmonyOS is not a copy of Android and is an “all-new" operating system, which does not seem to be true according to the ArtsTechnica lowdown of the operating system.

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