Outside China, Android isn’t Android without Google

Google Android

Even third party apps are dependent on Google service

The tech story that made the biggest impact on me yesterday was Sam Byford’s “Living a Google-free life with a Huawei phone.” In the run up to the launch of Huawei’s new flagship P40 line, he got himself a Mate 30 Pro and used it to see what Android is like sans Google. This is, of course, something untold millions of people in China do every day, but outside China Huawei falls in a weird zone where it doesn’t have its local China services nor Google services.

The result, as Sam writes, is weird. But what struck me the most is how essential Google Mobile Services (GMS) are to the functioning of every modern Android phone outside of China. You might already expect that not having Gmail, Chrome, and the Play Store would be annoying — but the fact that so many non-Google apps don’t work was a bit of a shock.

GMS and Google Play Services have slowly grown to become essential parts of how an Android phone works. They’re how the web engine gets updated, they’re increasingly how the operating system itself gets updated (via Project Mainline), and they protect against malware — even for apps you don’t load from the official Google Play Store.

They also offer lots of services to developers, and that’s the part that’s easy to forget. Google’s services offer push notifications, location, casting, ad support, and much more. Huawei has been building out its own services and store to deal with life away from Google, but the situation right now is that the Mate 30 Pro doesn’t even ship with a viable maps app. Android may be open source, but an Android phone doesn’t really operate without Google — at least outside of China.

None of this is especially shocking or even nefarious, it’s just something that isn’t in your face every day. Other operating systems like Windows and iOS are equally tied up with the company that makes them, which is a point so obvious that pointing it out in the first place seems silly. But with Android, it’s worth remembering.

We’ll have lots of coverage of Huawei’s new P40 series today, so look forward to that. For what it’s worth, Huawei has said it would come back to the US if it could, but that seems unlikely in the near future. Also, thanks to everybody who emailed me today with their thoughts on the iPad — I’ll try to reply personally to everybody but it’ll take a bit.