(Pocket-lint) - Huawei is moving beyond Google - by not including the Google Play app store and Google Mobile Services (GMS) on its new phones.
It was true of last year's Mate 30 and Mate 30 Pro as well as the new P40 Series. New Honor phones are also affected even though all the phones still run a version of Android using Huawei's EMUI 10 user interface.
The situation is not of Huawei's own making. The current US administration has 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 we've recently seen 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 recently-refreshed Huawei MateBook X Pro and Honor MagicBook. As of early 2020, Google appears to have applied for an exception to the ban.
But it may be too late because Huawei now appears hell-bent on making a success of its own app store outside of China.
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 420 million active users out of a total of around 700 million Huawei device 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.
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 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.
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, AA, 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, provided by Here. Huawei also elevates some apps to 'Hero Status' which basically means 'must have'. Deezer is the latest app to have this status in App Gallery.
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.
And even getting a couple of these on board won't necessarily guarantee a level of success - Microsoft's ill-fated Windows Phone Store had Facebook and Twitter, for example. Plus, when many of these big-name apps are developed in the US, there's an obvious issue with being seen to deal with Huawei as a US company.
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 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
- 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
- Skype - Yes, in the form of Skype Lite.
- Messenger - No
- 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
- 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
- Morrisons - No
- Spotify - No
- BBC iPlayer - No
- Twitch - No
- Deliveroo - Yes
- Duolingo - No
- eBay - No
- Amazon Shopping - Yes
That's a total of six apps available on App Gallery.
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.
How is Huawei planning on signing developers up?
At the recent 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.