To an untrained eye Huawei’s HarmonyOS looks like the Android phone operating system. Officially the company says it is not a copy of Android. But that’s not what your eyes will tell you if you give it try.
HarmonyOS is the company’s response to changed market conditions. Huawei aims to establish it as a third phone OS alongside iOS and Android. It hopes HarmonyOS will reach beyond phones to tablets, watches and smart speakers.
Soon owners of recent Huawei phones including the Mate 40, P40 and Mate 30 models will be able to upgrade to HarmonyOS. The word upgrade needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. Few users will see much of an improvement.
Why is this happening?
It took 18 months for Huawei to go from the top rank of phone makers to become a distant runner up.
Two years ago the US government put sanctions on Huawei. It is no longer allowed to licence or otherwise use US technology. Most of all, it can’t use Google Mobile Services.
This is the glue that makes an Android phone useful. Among other things it gives users access to Google’s cloud, to the Play Store and to Gmail. Google Maps and YouTube are off limits. Users can’t buy things with Google Pay.
Losing Google Mobile Services hit the company’s phone business hard. This changed the Android phone market.
IDC’s New Zealand market report for the first quarter of 2021 suggests that Huawei now accounts for about one phone in 20 sold. Between them, Apple and Samsung account for 17 phones in 20. The rest are rats and mice.
At its peak Huawei was close to a quarter of the New Zealand phone market.
In 2019 Huawei was in third place both in New Zealand and worldwide. There were quarters when it shipped more units than Apple. Mind you, a lot of those units were low-end devices.
In recent months Huawei’s New Zealand business has turned to selling solar power technology and headphones where it once sold premium phones and mobile network hardware.
At Ars Technica, Ron Amado takes an in-depth look at HarmonyOS. He had to jump through ridiculous hoops to get a copy of the software.
His conclusion is that it is an Android fork. Or to be more accurate, he says: “It’s Android but slower”.
There’s a lot of technical material in the story. It’s something of a treat for a certain kind of Android fan. Amado concludes by saying HarmonyOS is potentially China’s version of Android.