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By Alvin Mak
The U.S. Government’s blacklisting of Huawei in 2019 has shaken the company, to say the least. As an immediate outcome of this decision, Google ended its business relationship with the Chinese hardware manufacturer, resulting in Huawei being banned from using apps under Google Mobile Services (GMS).
Not only has Google suspended future hardware development collaboration with Huawei, but the ban also limits Huawei’s software to anything outside of Google’s GMS. The apps will not be preloaded onto new Huawei devices, nor will they be made available for manual download. GMS includes such apps as the Google Play Store, Google Search, Google Chrome, and Google Maps.
However, it’s important to debunk the misconception that all American companies are barred from purchasing Huawei devices. The new restrictions are not all-encompassing; Microsoft, Amazon, and Snapchat are still available through Huawei’s new app store, App Gallery (Huawei’s solution to the removal of Google’s Play Store).
That said, the restricted access of a host of Google apps has left Huawei scrambling for its own software solutions and Google-alternatives.
Huawei’s App Gallery offers significantly fewer options than its counterparts. Aside from GMS, the service lacks Facebook, Netflix, Twitter, and many other American platforms that have been blacklisted by China’s Internet censorship policies.
A workaround for the limited selection is to sync third-party apps when setting up a new Huawei device. Huawei’s setup process provides a useful tool called Phone Clone, where most non-Google apps missing from App Gallery can be transferred from device to device without needing a VPN.
Through this method, users can preserve services such as Instagram and Twitter without downloading them natively.
Huawei’s answer to Google Search is its new engine, Petal Search. With the new interface, Huawei’s users can search for weather updates, news stories, sports, videos, images, and more. It also provides a ‘For You’ page that displays algorithm-curated top news articles to keep users up-to-date.
Most importantly, Petal Search combines itself with Huawei’s App Gallery and other third-party app stores, such as APKPure, in its search function, acting as an app store and a search engine in one. As long as Petal Search can find a download source, apps can be installed directly from Petal Search onto your Huawei device, providing users with a convenient option to download blacklisted apps. Users in Mainland China, however, may need a VPN to access the download sources of these apps.
Nonetheless, with the assistance of third-party app sources concatenated into one platform, finding apps such as Facebook or Instagram is made much more convenient than previously anticipated.
Gmail users will still be able to access their accounts through Huawei’s EMUI10 email app. Although it may lack the accessibility options and ergonomic finesse typically provided by Google, it remains a viable option.
Ridesharing platforms such as Uber and Lyft are profoundly affected by the new regulations. While these two ridesharing services have their self-developed platform for booking and payment, Google Maps is foundationally built into both as the navigation system. Hence, ridesharing abilities without GMS are significantly limited.
The Chinese solution to this problem is DiDi Chuxing, a ridesharing app that has long dominated the ride-sharing space in the country. It comes as no surprise that, in employing over 31 million drivers domestically, DiDi’s homeland network is more than extensive. The app is available on Huawei’s App Gallery, so ordering cabs is business-as-usual in China.
Outside of Greater China (DiDi’s operating area), where Google-partnered ride-sharing platforms dominate, Huawei falls short in providing viable solutions.
Is Huawei still worth it?
Ultimately, the answer depends on how much accessibility and platform-interconnectivity users are willing to sacrifice. It is clear that Huawei’s current struggle highly jeopardizes the seamless app linkage that people are so used to with Google.
In China, the changes won’t be as noticeable–if at all. Outside of Asia, where American tech companies dominate the app ecosystem, coping with the sanction will be very difficult. In this market, Huawei will undoubtedly struggle.
Perhaps its Chinese rival Xiaomi will outshine the company as it clambers to brace its overseas market.