Huawei’s HarmonyOS: “Fake it till you make it” meets OS development

Enlarge / What a beautiful little inexperienced robotic! Have we met earlier than?

Huawei is China’s—and previously the world’s—largest smartphone vendor, and over the previous 18 months, it realized an necessary lesson: the corporate cannot depend on the US provide chain. In 2019, the US authorities banned US exports to Huawei, which lower the corporate off from entry to most chip and software program suppliers. Constructing a cellphone is difficult with out entry to key components and apps. Huawei’s latest Q4 2020 numbers present its cellphone gross sales in free fall, dropping 42 p.c year-over-year.

Due to this, Huawei needs independence from the worldwide smartphone provide chain. Whereas {hardware} independence is one thing the corporate must work on, Huawei additionally must get freed from Google’s software program. So, as many corporations have tried to do earlier than it, Huawei hopes to make an Android killer.

The corporate’s try at an in-house OS known as “HarmonyOS” (also called “HongmengOS” in China). “Model 2” was launched in December, bringing “beta” smartphone assist to the working system for the primary time. Can Huawei succeed the place Windows PhoneBlackberry 10Sailfish OSUbuntu TouchFirefox OSSymbianMeeGoWebOS, and Samsung’s Tizen have all tried and failed?

To listen to Huawei inform the story, HarmonyOS is an authentic in-house creation—a defiant act that may let the corporate break freed from American software program affect. Huawei’s OS announcement in 2019 obtained massive, splashy articles within the nationwide media. CNN called HarmonyOS “a rival to Android,” and Richard Yu, the CEO of Huawei’s shopper enterprise group, instructed the outlet that HarmonyOS “is totally totally different from Android and iOS.” Huawei President of Shopper Software program Wang Chenglu repeated these claims simply final month, saying (through translation), “HarmonyOS isn’t a duplicate of Android, neither is it a duplicate of iOS.”

That makes HarmonyOS sound tremendous fascinating. Naturally, we needed to take a deep dive.

After gaining access to HarmonyOS by a grossly invasive sign-up course of, firing up the SDK and emulator, and poring over the developer paperwork, I can not come to another conclusion: HarmonyOS is actually an Android fork. The best way that Huawei describes the OS to the press and in developer paperwork would not appear to have a lot to do with what the corporate is definitely delivery. The developer paperwork seem nearly purposefully written to confuse the reader; any little bit of precise delivery code to which you maintain up a magnifying glass appears like Android with no main modifications.

The phrase “pretend it until you make it” is commonly given as motivational recommendation, however I’ve by no means seen it utilized to OS growth earlier than. When you’ve ever seen a contemporary Huawei Android cellphone, HarmonyOS is essentially the identical factor… with a number of strings modified. So whereas there’s not a lot new to see, we will not less than dissect HarmonyOS and debunk a few of Huawei’s claims about its “brand-new” working system.

However first—a two-day background examine?!

Earlier than we dive into HarmonyOS, we’ve got to truly get HarmonyOS, which is an unbelievable problem. Supposedly some Huawei Android telephones just like the P40 Professional might be converted to HarmonyOS by some form of closed beta. That is limited to China, although. For me, getting HarmonyOS meant discovering my passport.

For comparability, let’s first speak about how different distributors serve up their working system SDKs. For Android, you Google “Android SDK” from any desktop laptop, click on the first link, and press the obtain button. Apple requires builders to personal a Mac for the iOS SDK, however from there it is only a easy journey to the App Retailer to obtain Xcode.

Earlier than you may strive Concord OS, in contrast, Huawei requires you to go a two-day background examine. They even desire a image of your passport!

Huawei requires you to go to, make an account, after which signal as much as be a developer by passing “Identity verification.” This implies sending Huawei your title, deal with, e mail, cellphone quantity, and photos of your ID (driver’s license or passport) and a photograph of a bank card. You have to then wait one or two enterprise days whereas somebody at Huawei manually “evaluations” your utility. Huawei helpfully notes that it’s going to not cost your bank card.

Huawei’s docs say that “the ID card, passport, driver’s license, and financial institution card are used to confirm and match your id info.” OK, however why? Why does Huawei need to know all the pieces about me first? And why does that take two days?

Even when you attempt to skip Huawei’s horrible sign-up course of and “pirate” the Concord SDK by downloading it from elsewhere, the SDK will not run the emulator till you sign up with an account that has handed the two-day background examine.

Are you able to think about what a possible HarmonyOS developer will assume once they get to this step? When you’re a longtime developer in an app ecosystem, it is regular for the ecosystem proprietor to gather some figuring out and monetary info. You most likely desire a developer to have the ability to cost cash for his or her app, which implies you want to have the ability to switch cash to a checking account, and the ecosystem proprietor is perhaps accountable for tax assortment. Proper now, although, we’re miles away from that state of affairs with HarmonyOS. At this level, which is simply downloading the SDK for the primary time, your typical downloader will probably be a curious developer who’s simply starting to analyze Huawei’s OS. (Signing up for “Service provider Service” is definitely a completely totally different Huawei course of.)


That is alleged to be a brand-new working system, and Huawei’s place at this level would generally be one among openness towards any potential builders. Google’s one-click, nameless obtain for the Android SDK, on Home windows, Mac, and Linux, is the mannequin corporations needs to be emulating. Huawei is as an alternative making this as onerous as potential, and it is easy to think about a possible developer balking on the ridiculous and intrusive obtain course of, closing the tab, and going again to Android and iOS growth. It is the worst first impression of an working system I’ve ever seen. As a developer, you have to marvel if Huawei will at all times be this troublesome to work with sooner or later.

That mentioned, I did all this.

Within the spirit of taking one for the crew, I shamefully despatched Huawei an image of my passport and bank card. My info most likely went God-knows-where in China; it felt like a violation, and also you’re welcome. After a two-day wait, my social credit score was apparently excessive sufficient that I used to be granted entry to Huawei’s valuable working system. (Hopefully, Beijing would not have “a file” on me now.)

Now, let’s examine what we obtained in spite of everything this effort.

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