Huawei is officially replacing Android with HarmonyOS, which is also Android | GeekComparison

This morning, Huawei officially gave the go-ahead for the launch of Harmony OS, its own operating system and (among other things) the replacement for Android, in a live stream. The company announced a new watch, a new tablet and a new phone powered by HarmonyOS. The company also said it would update a huge list of 100 different Huawei Android phone models to Harmony OS over the next year.

With today’s announcement, it seems that Huawei has two completely different operating systems that it calls “HarmonyOS”. The first is the IoT and smartwatch version of HarmonyOS, which is based on Huawei’s LiteOS and is open source. The second version of Harmony OS is for phones and tablets and is a fork of Android and uses the Linux kernel (Huawei is very reluctant to admit this). When two completely different operating systems seem to have the same brand name, there is a lot of confusion and you can make many claims about the IoT version of HarmonyOS that don’t apply to the phone version.

For example, TechCrunch spoke to Huawei and reported: “Huawei denied speculation that HarmonyOS is a derivative of Android and said no line of code is identical to Android’s. A spokesperson for Huawei declined to say whether the operating system is based on Linux, the kernel that powers Android.” This statement is true for the IoT version, but not for the phone version. Meanwhile, the company said the opposite to German site ComputerBase, which quotes Huawei’s software president: “To ensure that our existing users can still enjoy the experiences they are familiar with with our phones and tablets, Huawei is using the AOSP open source code in HarmonyOS provided open source licensing rules and related responsibilities and obligations are met.”

HarmonyOS: still only Android (at least on phones)

In the wake of the US export ban on Huawei, the company is currently struggling to maintain independence from the US supply chain. China has plenty of hardware component manufacturers that Huawei can rely on, but China doesn’t do massive amounts of software development. So software is the company’s biggest problem. HarmonyOS should be the answer to that problem, so Huawei wants to sell the operating system as an in-house creation that will allow it to break away from US influence. Huawei doesn’t seem to like it when you point out that Harmony OS for phones is heavily based on Android.

However, we tried the OS in the official emulator a few months ago and there’s no doubt we were looking at an Android fork. HarmonyOS was identical to what Huawei ships on its Android phones, except for a few changes to the “about” screen that swapped the words “Android” and “EMUI” (Huawei’s Android skin) for “HarmonyOS”. Huawei even missed a few spots where the operating system still said “Android”. The operating system ran Android apps and supported every Android feature with an implementation identical to Android. It used the Linux kernel and listed the version on the “About” screen. Development used the “Android Debug Bridge”, Huawei’s SDK listed 27 different Android libraries in the third-party software list and compiled Android apps with a different file extension. It was Android with no discernible differences.

Enlarge / “Harmony OS” will apparently consist of several operating systems with one name. The OS of the phone and tablet is Android, the smartwatch and IoT OS is based on LiteOS, and I have no idea what the “car” and “smart TV” versions are.


Another major point I have to pick with HarmonyOS is the lack of access and transparency. Just to access the SDK and emulator I had to go through an insane process that involved uploading a picture of my US passport and credit card to Huawei’s servers so that after a two day wait I could be approved for access to the SDK. Most companies only have a download link. You can’t run the emulator locally on your computer where it can be inspected more thoroughly – instead it runs remotely on a server somewhere in China and streams its video to your computer. After we wrote our article, Huawei removed the emulator and blocked “overseas” users from downloading the SDK.

However, HarmonyOS doesn’t have many options for hiding once it’s rolled out to devices. The Verge’s Jon Porter notes that the MatePad Pro tablet comes with Huawei’s “AppGallery” Android app store and runs Android apps, because of course it’s just Android.

Forking from Android isn’t a problem, and big companies like Amazon are doing it for their FireOS. The difference is that Amazon is candid about it, saying “FireOS is a fork of Android” in the first paragraph of its developer docs. Huawei’s developer docs make no reference to Android and are mostly pure gibberish – by which I mean they’re buzzword paragraphs and circular links that don’t actually contain any technical information about what the operating system is or how it works.

New for HarmonyOS: Android 11 features, iOS design

In today’s show, HarmonyOS (for phones) got a light reskin and looks slightly different from the emulator. The main new feature was a new quick settings panel that shows the company isn’t afraid to copy both major mobile operating systems: the design is ripped straight from iOS’s Control Center, while the new functionality – with multiple media players and a sound output selector – is an android 11 feature. The HarmonyOS emulator we looked at was based on Android 10, but this media quick settings feature suggests that this version of Harmony has been upgraded to Android 11 and that Huawei is just writing more of the codebase.

HarmonyOS also has a feature called “Super Device”, which appears to be just a networking feature along the lines of Google Cast, AirPlay, or Bluetooth. When all the devices in your home run Harmony OS, you can use a number of pedestrian-sounding network functions, such as linking a drone to a smartphone for remote control, using a tablet stylus on your PC, or connecting wireless earbuds, according to Huawei. with Harmony OS. your phone. The company showed off a plug-in for Huawei Windows PCs that lets you quickly transfer files to a phone. Huawei envisioned wild smart home integration, like tapping a phone against a toaster oven to look up recipes. There was also a HarmonyOS power refrigerator.

As part of the Harmony OS rollout, Huawei is doing a massive internal upgrade to about 100 different models of Huawei Android phones that they will port to Harmony OS. Normally, developing a brand new operating system and supporting a hundred old models would be an expensive, mammoth effort that most companies would call “impracticable,” but since Harmony OS is really only Android, it’s not that big of a deal. We also can’t promise that all of these phones will move to Android 11: they may only get basic rebranding changes to their existing software.

The first batch of phones will be upgraded today, June 2, including Huawei flagships such as the Mate 40 and 30 series, P40 series and the foldable Mate X2. More batches of phones are coming in Q3, Q4 and 2021 H1. Huawei promised switchers that “the performance of Harmony OS is superior to the Android-based EMUI”, but the company did not provide details on which areas it claims to be better.

Huawei dropped a few hints that it was feeling the pain of the US export ban and everything else going on. It said it would start selling existing phones like the Mate 40 Pro with HarmonyOS out of the box, but noted that “due to restrictions imposed by the US” it would not be able to offer these phones with 5G. The company also briefly teased its next flagship, the P50, but said “For reasons you all know, a launch date hasn’t been set yet, but we’re trying to figure out how to make this great product available to you.” Huawei, actually we’re not sure what catastrophe this refers to. Is this due to COVID? The US export ban? The global chip shortage? Too much is happening right now to be vague.

So to recap, yesterday Huawei shipped smartwatches with LiteOS, and today it ships smartwatches with “HarmonyOS”, which is based on LiteOS. Yesterday it shipped phones and tablets running a forked version of Android without Google services. Today, Huawei is shipping “HarmonyOS” on phones and tablets, a forked Android without Google services. Has anything actually changed here?

List image by Huawei

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