When Huawei announced HarmonyOS in October 2019 in response to Huawei’s infamous US ban, the Chinese tech giant proposed it as a microkernel-based distributed operating system for IoT devices like smart TVs, smart speakers, and smartphones. Fast forward to December of last year, the company released what it called the “HarmonyOS 2.0 Beta” for developers. ArsTechnica has now managed to roll out the Harmony OS 2.0 beta version and released a report detailing the true state of the operating system in 2021.
HarmonyOS 2.0 Beta: Just an Android fork?
The report highlights how difficult it was to pass the two-day background check to gain access to the emulator. The process involved providing Huawei with personal data, including name, address, email, phone number and identification images (driver’s license or passport), and a photo of a credit card.
After all this mess, you still won’t be able to run the emulator on your development machine. Instead, you should trust a remote emulator that Huawei offers you. Also, the emulator does not appear to be a software-based virtual one. As ArsTechnica says, “It is HarmonyOS if it ran on Google Stadia; you will receive a slow, interactive video stream from the operating system sent to you from somewhere on the Internet.”
Closely examining the beta version of HarmonyOS 2.0, ArsTechnica found several references to Android in all components of the operating system. In several cases, Huawei appears to have removed the word “Android” and labeled system applications such as the HarmonyOS System as “version 10”, an obvious reference to Android 10. Huawei has also packed its Application Gallery, which offers access to applications from Android.
The report further notes how Huawei’s documentation did not have references to Android. A sample app built with Huawei’s SDK also appears to show how it resembled Android code. It is worth noting that it was possible to decompile .hap (HarmonyOS Ability Packages) using the Android decompilation tools. All these tests show that HarmonyOS is a fork of Android, at least in its latest beta version. Huawei may simply not have updated its emulator and we will have to wait to see if there are any substantial changes when it ships to devices later this year.