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 discovered an essential lesson: the corporate cannot depend on the US provide chain. In 2019, the US authorities banned US exports to Huawei, which reduce the corporate off from entry to most chip and software program suppliers. Building a cellphone is tough with out entry to key components and apps. Huawei’s newest This autumn 2020 numbers present its cellphone gross sales in free fall, dropping 42 p.c year-over-year.

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

The firm’s try at an in-house OS known as “HarmonyOS” (also called “HongmengOS” in China). “Version 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 hear Huawei inform the story, HarmonyOS is an unique in-house creation—a defiant act that can 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 referred to as HarmonyOS “a rival to Android,” and Richard Yu, the CEO of Huawei’s client enterprise group, advised the outlet that HarmonyOS “is completely different from Android and iOS.” Huawei President of Consumer Software Wang Chenglu repeated these claims simply final month, saying (by translation), “HarmonyOS is not a copy of Android, nor is it a copy of iOS.”

That makes HarmonyOS sound tremendous attention-grabbing. 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 am unable to come to every other conclusion: HarmonyOS is actually an Android fork. The method 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 transport. The developer paperwork seem virtually purposefully written to confuse the reader; any little bit of precise transport code to which you maintain up a magnifying glass appears to be like like Android with no main adjustments.

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

But first—a two-day background test?!

Before we dive into HarmonyOS, we have now to truly get HarmonyOS, which is an unimaginable problem. Supposedly some Huawei Android telephones just like the P40 Pro could be converted to HarmonyOS by some sort of closed beta. This is restricted to China, although. For me, getting HarmonyOS meant discovering my passport.

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

Before you can strive Harmony OS, against this, Huawei requires you to go a two-day background test. They even need a image of your passport!

Huawei requires you to go to Huawei.com, make an account, after which signal as much as be a developer by passing “Identity verification.” This means sending Huawei your identify, tackle, e mail, cellphone quantity, and footage of your ID (driver’s license or passport) and a photograph of a bank card. You should then wait one or two enterprise days whereas somebody at Huawei manually “reviews” your utility. Huawei helpfully notes that it won’t cost your bank card.

Huawei’s docs say that “the ID card, passport, driver’s license, and bank card are used to verify and match your identity information.” OK, however why? Why does Huawei need to know every little thing about me first? And why does that take two days?

Even if you attempt to skip Huawei’s horrible sign-up course of and “pirate” the Harmony 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 test.

Can you think about what a possible HarmonyOS developer will suppose after they get to this step? If you’re a longtime developer in an app ecosystem, it’s regular for the ecosystem proprietor to gather some figuring out and monetary info. You most likely need 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 may be liable for tax assortment. Right 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 might be a curious developer who’s simply starting to analyze Huawei’s OS. (Signing up for “Merchant Service” is definitely a very totally different Huawei course of.)

Nosy

This is meant to be a brand-new working system, and Huawei’s place at this level would generally be one in every of openness towards any potential builders. Google’s one-click, nameless obtain for the Android SDK, on Windows, Mac, and Linux, is the mannequin firms needs to be emulating. Huawei is as an alternative making this as arduous as attainable, and it’s simple 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 development. It’s the worst first impression of an working system I’ve ever seen. As a developer, you’ve obtained to surprise if Huawei will at all times be this troublesome to work with sooner or later.

That mentioned, I did all this.

In the spirit of taking one for the workforce, 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 you’re welcome. After a two-day wait, my social credit score rating was apparently excessive sufficient that I used to be granted entry to Huawei’s treasured working system. (Hopefully, Beijing would not have “a file” on me now.)

Now, let’s examine what we obtained in any case this effort.