HarmonyOS would essentially be a fork of Android. In other words, Huawei seems to have literally taken the source code from Android to develop its home OS.
You have certainly followed the soap opera on Frandroid: Huawei suffers from a major embargo inflicted by the United States and is forced to stop various collaborations, including the one with Google. Huawei smartphones are orphaned by Google services, which has forced the Chinese manufacturer to offer alternatives.
The Huawei Mate 40 Pro, for example, runs Android (EMUI 11 based on Android 10) with Huawei Mobile Services (HMS), the AppGallery (equivalent to the Play Store) and Petal Search. The latter is an APK file search engine if you ever find an Android application on the AppGallery. In practice, we recommend these Android phones exclusively to connoisseurs for several reasons, and in particular, because installing .APK files gleaned from the web is not without risk.
On the other hand, Huawei’s strategy has been to develop its own OS, announced as different from Android and iOS, it is named HarmonyOS. This OS must equip all Huawei products, including TVs and connected watches, but also smartphones from 2021. CNN has called HarmonyOS a rival d’Android and Richard Yu, Huawei Group CEO, said HarmonyOS is completely different from Android and iOS.
Ars Technica was able to access the HarmonyOS documentation, you can also do this, as well as the development kit (SDK) and the emulator. According to their first observations, HarmonyOS would essentially be a fork of Android. In other words, Huawei seems to have literally taken the source code from Android to develop its home OS.
What does this first version of HarmonyOS look like?
The American media installed the HarmonyOS emulator which is supposed to run a preliminary version of Huawei’s OS as if it was running on a smartphone. First observation, HarmonyOS looks like EMUI, Huawei’s Android interface. It’s not even a resemblance, it’s an exact copy Ars Technica believes.
By digging into the settings, we can quickly see that the system is actually Android. It seems that some packages (applications) are the same as those on Android, however “Android” is replaced by “HarmonyOS”. HarmonyOS would therefore be based on Android 10, with Huawei services instead of Google’s. It’s perfectly legal, we can wrong Android as did Amazon (Fire OS), however we are far from the statements of Huawei which announced a system very different from Android.
Ars Technica also noticed that this version differs from the open source version of HarmonyOS called OpenHarmony, which seems to have no connection with what ships on the emulator. The current OpenHarmony source code identifies as version 1.0 and is only for IoT connected devices, while the beta version for phones and SDK is named HarmonyOS 2.0.
Regarding the HarmonyOS development kit (SDK), named DevEco Studio, it is based on the Jetbrains IntelliJ IDE with the Gradle building system. Again, it uses the same basic components of Google’s Android Studio SDK.
HarmonyOS, an OS for the Chinese market?
HarmonyOS would therefore only be a brand to promote a home system based on Android. Recall that even though Huawei is losing significant market share in the world, it is still the largest seller of smartphones in China. With nearly 1.4 billion people, or roughly 18% of the world’s population, China is a big enough market for HarmonyOS.
Outside of its home market, it once again seems complicated to imagine that Huawei is in a position to offer a viable alternative to Google’s Android. Amazon had already tried with the Fire Phone… the project was abandoned.