The launch of Huawei’s latest phones this week is a reminder of how dependent we have become on Google. Would life really be difficult without it?
Huawei launched its latest phones, the Mate 30 and the Mate 30 Pro, in Munich on Thursday and, as expected, they’re minus a very important thing: Google.
The new phones run a version of Android called AOSP – Android Open Source Project – which is the open-source version that anyone can download and install on a device.
AOSP however, doesn’t have Google’s apps and services: if you want those, you have to license them from Google.
Life without Google
Google – and other American companies – were banned from doing business with Huawei earlier this year.
So what does that mean in practice? The most obvious thing is that these new phones don’t have the usual Google apps you’d expect on an Android phone: there’s no Play Store, no Google Maps, no YouTube, no Google Pay, no Drive, no Assistant… you get the drift.
But you do start running into issues quite quickly. Much of the web is predicated on access to Google services: many websites have Google maps embedded, for example, while content providers upload videos to YouTube.
I was a Windows Phone user for many years, only coming over to Android once it became clear that the platform was not going to survive.
One reason I finally switched away was because it became increasingly difficult to use without access to Google services.
There was no YouTube app for Windows Phone, and a spat between Google and Microsoft back in 2013 that meant the Windows Phone browser couldn’t access Google Maps, for example.
Other apps were AWOL in the Windows Store, too. Windows Phone users at best had third-party apps from independent developers for big services like Instagram and YouTube that often didn’t work well or broke after updates.
That’s a glimpse of what using the new Huawei phones might be like. More importantly, though, many Android apps rely on Google’s under-the-hood services such as location, updates, notifications and casting.
Google has increasingly been bringing Android code under its proprietary umbrella, including the core functions called Google Mobile Services (GMS) that underpin the seamless functionality of apps by providing the links between the operating system and the apps themselves.
Some apps just won’t work
While some apps will probably be OK, others simply won’t work without GMS. That means developers will have to rewrite their apps for the Huawei app store.
It’s hard to know how many will do that, but given the experience of Windows Phone, which died partly because developers didn’t rewrite their apps for the platform, I’m not optimistic.
What happens with Huawei remains to be seen, but what I’m interested in is a thought experiment: would you use a phone without Google services?
Your banking app might not be available, nor things like Netflix and the iPlayer. And are you comfortable with how much Google underpins how we use mobile devices and the web?
I have broadly made my peace with Google. My mobile is Android (it’s actually a Huawei), although I use Outlook and Edge on my Android devices rather than Gmail and Chrome, and I block third-party cookies.
But those are symbolic gestures rather than particularly effective ones: I use Google Pay everywhere, and I use Google smarthome devices to control my lights, music, heating and doorbell.
I don’t think I could give up Google – could you?