In the minds of most Americans, there are only about a dozen countries in the world. There is America, the greatest country on earth; evil China, Cuba and Russia; Africa where there are poor starving people who live in forests among lions, Europe with fancy accents and Fiji. And of course if a phone doesn’t have Google apps it’s not worth having. After all, we all buy phones so we can use these awesome apps.
The Huawei ban in brief
If you don’t know why I am writing about this here is a brief background:
- By 2018 the Chinese Android phone maker Huawei had risen to number two in terms of the number of Android phones they were shipping. Everybody expected them to eventually overtake Samsung as the world’s largest phone maker.
- The company was also being touted as leading in the 5G game, far ahead of companies in Western Countries.
- The Americans and their pals didn’t care for this. They reckoned if Huawei’s tail was not docked a couple of undesirable things would happen:
- A large number of Americans would end up with Huawei phones with potential backdoors in them. They already engaged in cyber and real-world spying battles with the Chinese and this would be a serious loss.
- Losing the 5G battle would be much much worse. It would mean the Chinese would be supplying core infrastructure that could be used to spy even on those without Huawei phones.
- Nobody believed Huawei’s timid assurances that they were an independent company and would resist the Chinese government’s pressure. If the greatest country on earth was vacuuming data with and without FISA (secret court) warrants you can bet the Chinese could do much more.
- Worse than being spied on by the Chinese was the fact that the Americans and their buddies would be giving up access. Most of the current equipment is probably being used by them to conduct mass spying. The Snowden revelations offer a Window of how the US leverages its pole position in tech to coerce hapless entities like Google and Facebook to do it’s bidding.
So in 2019, Donald Trump, with rare bipartisan support of the entire US government decided, to put Huawei on the so-called Entity List. This list banned US companies from doing business with Huawei. This meant companies such as Qualcomm and Google could no longer do business with Huawei without approval from the US government. The biggest outcome was that on the software side of things Huawei phones could no longer come pre-installed with Google apps such as Gmail and Google Maps.
Americans conclude that a phone without Google is just useless.
The reviews for the latest phone from Huawei, The Huawei Mate 40 Pro, are just being published and it’s like they were written by the same person. Like the P30 reviews from last year, leading publications like Forbes, Bloomberg, TechRadar, Wired, ArsTechnica and others never go beyond the fact that this phone doesn’t have Gmail or Google Maps. The invariable conclusion has been that a phone is useless without these unless of course if you are living in China.
The Huawei Mate 40 Pro, tested by Bloomberg News, offers an early indication of what Android smartphones without Google can be. The Shenzhen-based company’s technical chops are impressive, but it’s hard to imagine anyone outside its home country, beyond hardcore enthusiasts, spending well more than $1,000 for a phone without Google Maps or Gmail.Bloomberg’s judgement mirrors everyone else’s opinion.
Smaller publishers have simply followed suit with even respected YouTubers joining the whining about these otherwise awesome phones that don’t have Google Apps.
As already hinted by my opening paragraph. I think this is just warped American-centric thinking. A lot of people out here don’t really care whether a phone as Google apps or not. Even when they need to use Google Apps and services they can easily find alternatives, sideload the apps or just use third-party apps to access Google services. Only Americans and to a lesser extent, Western Europeans are so deeply offended by Huawei’s not having Google Apps.
Lessons from My phone
I have to confess that I don’t have a Huawei phone at the moment. I am currently using the Redmi 8 from Xiaomi which is also made by a Chinese company. Fortunately, Xiaomi has not yet been placed on the Entity List.This means my phone was not made by a company labouring under some ban. The phone, therefore, comes with all the Google services installed:
- Google Assistant
- Services (a framework)
- Photos and Google Photos both from Google
- Google TV (formerly Movies)
- Duo (kind of like Zoom and Skype)
That’s it. Those are all the apps from Google. The thing though is that it goes beyond this list. Over the years, Google Services has expanded its reach in the Android Ecosystem to become more and more important and a lot of apps such as PayPal, Uber, Lyft, Telegram, WhatsApp etc will not work without it being installed on your phone. If you are lucky you will be able to use these apps with limited functionality.
Yes Google has been busy over the years. While Android was initially released as Open Source over the years Google has worked hard to replace critical opensource components with its proprietary offerings. Google services which was released back in 2012 has been the largest affront to Android’s openness. This, not as these clowns doing reviews suggest, is the real reason why Huawei is struggling.
Google Services is what Microsoft wanted .NET to be. A lot of programmers find it easy or even necessary to simply rely on this API instead of having to write their own low-level libraries. In fact, in official Android builds, sometimes it’s not even possible to access certain device functions without going through the API. Google has locked various functions ostensibly for security reasons.
For these apps to actually work one of three things have to happen:
- Huawei has to provide a compatible service that offers the same API calls. That will not be easy as it would require reverse engineering Google Services and re-implementing these. This is not impossible to do as already apps such as MicroG already exist although they are not fully compatible with the real thing they allow most apps to work. So WhatsApp and Facebook will work but PayPal, Google Pay and Uber will not work properly. This will probably be the fate of Huawei’s own compatible framework.
- Huawei works to create its own comparable apps. This depends on the extent of the effort. They can just create their own implementation of Google Apps that do not rely on Google Services. This is not very hard to do. We already have OpenGApps for example. Install these on your phone and you will wonder what the Huawei ban fuss is all about. For most apps, a web view version will be more than useful take for example Gmail.
However, that still leaves the problem of third-party apps such as Uber that rely on Google Services. There will also be the issue of potential lawsuits as some of these apps will have to use third-party servers. Will Uber allow someone else to make a version of their app? An alternative would be for Huawei to offer its own apps e.g Huawei Mail. Not many people will be interested and besides too many apps from too many fields would have to be made.
- Huawei has to entice developers to make versions of their apps that would work on a Huawei device which would have a Huawei Services framework. To achieve this they would probably have to make sure their API mirrors that of Google Services. Now that takes time and money. Even Microsoft failed to lure developers to create apps for its phones although Huawei’s work will be made easier by the fact that not a lot of code changes will be needed, they just need to replace the Google part
Lots of people can live without Google Apps
It doesn’t look like it but if you sideload an app like microG or OpenGapps you won’t really need Google Services. For Zimbabweans, there might not even be a need to do this.
In fact, there are plenty of alternative services that you can use instead of official Google apps. Most of these Google apps can also be accessed in the browser although the user experience can be less than ideal.
Google apps might be great but you probably don’t need them
As already pointed out above, you can live without Google. In fact people from a lot of countries probably won’t care either way. What US-based reviewers are saying needs to be taken with a sprinkle of scepticism.
These are the same people that have a World Series that only a handful of countries take part in, Football matches where the ball is handled at least half the time, where body temperature is 98.6 degrees, fuel is measured in gallons and people’s height in feet and inches. It’s a different world but the limited minds of those who live therein cannot conceive of a different world.
We live in a different world and while it is nice to have Google Apps if you are in Zimbabwe or indeed Africa you probably won’t mind that much if they are missing. It’s doubtful lots of Asians will mind either. The real bummer is the part about Google Services but the world will probably not end because you don’t have it installed as there are viable workarounds that can be easily carried out.
A matter of goats not apps
The real deal-breaker for most of us, would be the prices of Huawei flagships. The latest Mate Pro is selling for a price north of US$1 000. Now that’s a lot of cows. You need to sell at least four cows to get be able to buy this device. That’s a least 40 goats. A lot of goats for a device that eerr does not come with Google Apps if you ask me ;).
NB Dear Americans. Lions don’t even live in the Jungle, rabbits don’t eat carrots and elephants certainly don’t snack on peanuts.