An investigation has found little difference between Huawei’s in-house smartphone OS and Android, which it’s supposed to be replacing.

The work was done by Ars Technica, which went through the arduous process of getting developer access in order to have a proper look at Harmony. Huawei has been tinkering with it for a while but the restrictions placed on it by the US, which included blocking Google from licensing its mobile services, made the development of a separate mobile platform a priority.

A year or so ago saw the first post-Google device launches, which lacked things like the Play Store and Google Maps. Huawei vowed to develop its own ecosystem that would soon make people forget about Android and, a year later, prepared for the big switch. While details have been hard to find, the messaging from Huawei increasingly pointed to a brand new software platform as opposed to just defeatured Android with a Huawei skin.

And yet that’s exactly what Ars Technica’s investigation concluded. “The way that Huawei describes the OS to the press and in developer documents doesn’t seem to have much to do with what the company is actually shipping,” says the article. “The developer documents appear almost purposefully written to confuse the reader; any bit of actual shipping code to which you hold up a magnifying glass looks like Android with no major changes.”

It goes on to describe an incredibly torturous process for even getting hold of the code, the fact that even the emulator can only be accessed over the cloud and that many of the info labels identify the software as Android. The software in questions even seemed to be running Google apps.

This raises two major issues. If Huawei is telling developers and customers that Harmony is a new OS then, on the basis of this story, it’s lying. That may not matter to the Chinese consumers it’s designed for, since they’ll be using Chinese apps anyway, but it may matter to Google and the US government. Google still doesn’t have permission to do business with Huawei, so it must be wondering how Harmony OS is able to run its apps and services.

Huawei isn’t primarily known for its software development, so it always seemed unlikely that it could rustle up a decent smartphone OS and platform from scratch. Maybe proper Harmony OS is still in development and this Android fork is just some kind of interim fudge, but that at least implies its development isn’t going well. As the article says, Huawei should just come out and admit Harmony is an Android fork, but maybe there are political reasons not to.




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