(Pocket-lint) - Huawei is moving beyond Google - by not including the Google Play app store and Google Mobile Services (GMS) on its phones from the past couple of years.
Essentially any phone launched from the end of 2019 onwards has been launched without Google's services, which means Huawei has poured time and money into developing a viable alternative.
The situation is not of Huawei's own making. The previous US administration made no secret of its distrust of basically anything Chinese and has barred US companies from dealing with Huawei - a trade ban.
The background to this is that it doesn't want Huawei's well-priced and well-used network gear being rolled out and has banned Huawei from using any US technologies. In the UK this manifest itself in a full ban on Huawei 5G networking gear that comes into play from 2027.
The trade ban has had a knock-on effect for large US companies including Google, which is losing revenue - despite Microsoft seemingly being given carte blanche to keep selling Windows to the company, as seen with the Huawei MateBook X Pro.
Why App Gallery can be a success in the UK and Europe
As you'll hear, Huawei's App Gallery is quite different from Google's Play Store in terms of what it offers but it's no fledgeling - the store has around 530 million active users that return to the store every month, with 42 countries having more than 1 million users.
Such a big userbase is possible because Google services aren't pervasive in China like they are in the US and Europe. If you have a Huawei phone in China, you've long-used App Gallery backed with Huawei Mobile Services (HMS). In total, App Gallery is available in over 170 countries already, across 78 languages.
The entire design of the store is massively different to Google Play too, with Huawei putting time and effort into editorial suggestions and discovery, which helps highlight games and popular apps for the region the store's being browsed in. Its entire layout is focused on browsing, rather than searching and that has seen developer registrations - particularly for games - grow massively.
That puts Huawei in quite a unique position - unlike Microsoft, Samsung and others who have tried and miserably failed to create rival app stores, it isn't starting on the back foot.
Yet, Huawei chief Richard Yu told us at the Mate 30 launch last September 2019 that the phone maker would skip back to Google overnight should the trade ban be lifted.
When asked about how long it might take Play Store apps appearing on the handset if a ban was lifted, Yu replied instantly "Over one night. We can do that immediately."
But Huawei's ethos seems to have shifted since then though. There has been a huge acceleration of Huawei's existing long-term strategy to establish its own app store outside of China.
It's announced a £20 million fund for developers in the UK alone, part of a $1 billion push to get key apps ported across. And Huawei has also partnered with Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo on creating a global app store to rival the big two - whatever that arrangement might look like. Huawei is already working with around 1.6 million app developers worldwide. In fact, 300,000 developers are registered outside of China.
What apps are available on Huawei's App Gallery?
The good news is that Huawei is definitely persuading some names to come across to App Gallery. Microsoft is getting involved as is Amazon. Also Deezer, Lufthansa, TikTok, Tidal, JD Sports, Adidas, Booking.com, Trainline, Viber and Opera all have apps on the store. Quantity isn't actually a problem on App Gallery, it's quality.
There's also now a decent maps app in the form of Petal Maps which offers navigation, live traffic and public transport information. Huawei also elevates some apps to 'Hero Status' which basically means 'must have'.
Aside from Google, the biggest problem with App Gallery adoption is the lack of core apps from the other big tech firms that are so popular in the UK and Europe - Twitter, Facebook's main app, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger. Netflix, Disney+ and Prime Video.
However this is a work around in the form of Petal Search which will let you download APKs of apps to Huawei phones. Some of those - like Facebook and WhatsApp - come direct from the official source so you know they're safe. Others come from non-official APK sites, but Huawei phones scan the files to ensure they're safe before you can install them.
The major downside to this is that they don't update automatically, so you do need to check to ensure that your app version is up to date quite often.
Coincidentally, Huawei is suggesting to users that they can transfer apps over to the P40 series from their old device using Phone Clone, but that will mean they won't be able to get automatic updates for those apps in the future and any Google integrations - such as with Google Drive - won't work.
Comparing the top Play Store apps with Huawei App Gallery
To perform a comparison, let's compare the top apps in the UK Google Play app store with what's available in the UK version of App Gallery.
We have ignored the Google apps that were in the list - Google Play Games, Hangouts Meet, Google Docs and Google Classroom as these obviously aren't available on App Gallery and provide an unfair comparison in our book.
- Zoom - No (but you can download the official APK from Zoom)
- Houseparty - No
- Disney+ - No
- Microsoft Teams - No but Microsoft Office, Swiftkey, Bing and Microsoft News are available so it's probably only a matter of time.
- TikTok - Yes
- WhatsApp - No (but you can download the official APK from WhatsApp)
- Skype - No
- Messenger - No (but you can download the official APK from Facebook)
- BBC News - No
- Instagram - No
- Netflix - No
- Microsoft Outlook - No but see Microsoft note above
- Tesco Grocery - No
- Uber Eats - No (and no Uber)
- Audible - No
- Asda - No
- Twitter - No (but there's a Quick App available)
- Snapchat - Yes
- Sky News - No
- NHS - No
- Prime Video - No but as the main Amazon Shopping app is present, we'd expect this at some point.
- Discord - No
- Just Eat - Yes
- Facebook - No (but you can download the official APK from Facebook)
- Morrisons - No
- Spotify - No
- BBC iPlayer - No
- Twitch - No
- Deliveroo - Yes
- Duolingo - No
- eBay - No
- Amazon Shopping - Yes
Often searches for apps threw up alternatives that tended to be approximations of the real thing - but this is also a problem with extra copycat apps on the Play Store and on iOS/iPadOS sometimes, too.
Clearly then, there's still work to be done, but it's not an impossible situation. As mentioned, when you search in the App Gallery now it will also bring in app APK results through Petal Search and so you can download apps officially and unofficially, with Huawei's software ensuring there's nothing dangerous packaged in the download.
So that means while these apps don't live on the App Gallery, you can still get pretty much all of them on your phone. Similarly, for those default apps like Google Docs, Maps and notes etc., Huawei has built its own alternatives which work well, so there's clear progress being made.
How is Huawei planning on signing developers up?
At the Mate Xs announcement, Yu said that Huawei would "welcome every developer worldwide". As part of this, it's giving non-Chinese devs almost all of the earnings from their apps for the first couple of years the app is on App Gallery - with 100 percent of earnings during the first year. After the 24 month period a usual 70/30 split applies.
However, in the absence of a significant userbase in the UK, Europe and beyond it hasn't had appear to have much traction with non-Chinese developers - and that's key. And naturally, the financial incentive doesn't really matter with key free apps like Facebook and Twitter.
How easy is it for developers to submit their apps?
It's actually relatively simple for developers to submit their apps to App Gallery - because Huawei's EMUI operating system is based on Android, it's completely compatible with it. Developers can basically submit the same app.
Huawei is also helping developers with technical support and integrating things like in-app purchases.
However, there are issues. Say your app uses Google Drive to store backups - as WhatsApp does - then suddenly your app is broken, because there's no Google Drive support in HMS and so you need to find somewhere else to place the backup. Also, games on Android often integrate with Google Play Games.
That connection is also now broken. Basically, if the app used some integration with Google services previously, it needs re-working.
Some Android APIs are also exclusive to GMS, so won't work on other versions of Android, bringing more complication.