How valuable is Android, or any other operating system, without Google?

The dust-up between the U.S. and Huawei has pushed the idea of how dependent on Google a phone manufacturer can be. Huawei is one of the biggest companies in the world, and having access to Google's services is what drove its smartphone market share into the sky — now nearing 20% globally, above Apple. Watching consumer reaction as that access is revoked gives a feeling that any future growth has ground to a complete stop and Huawei is in a heap of trouble as far as Western markets are concerned.

Right or wrong, Google has to comply with U.S. law. Or move to Ireland.

I'm not here to ponder the legitimacy of the U.S. claims or play armchair quarterback and decide if the restrictions are valid or not. National security is one of those things where anyone who can voice an opinion isn't really qualified to do so. You may like the decision or hate it, but like me, you can't do anything about it. The restrictions are in place, Google has to abide by them (as do Intel, Qualcomm, Broadcom, and others) because it is a U.S. based company. Huawei and Google may try to remind us that not everything is horrible, but it really is. For now, at least.

Google is Android; Android is Google

This all shines a light on how much value Android has without Google. Should this most recent ban last forever, Huawei will have no problem building phones that run the latest version of Android and keep them updated with security patches and new platform versions. This is because of the open-source nature of the operating system itself and if a handful of dedicated enthusiasts can do it, so can a giant mega-global corporation the size of Huawei. But building phones that nobody will buy isn't all that useful; you wouldn't want to use a phone that could only include what's open when it comes to Android.

Imagine if you picked up your phone and all of Google's apps and services stopped working. Would you want to use a web browser (but not Chrome) to access your Gmail or check Google Maps? Have you ever tried to access your Google Drive storage on a mobile web browser? Even making a phone call probably depends on access to your contacts through a Google service. Forget access to Google Play for a moment — as much of a blow as that is, it can be circumvented easily enough as we've seen from Amazon — your Android phone is tethered to Google in so many ways that it can become almost worthless without it.

A vehicle for services

This all started long before Android. We can look back as far as the first iPhone and see it. Apple is a tech fairy tale come true. At one time the company was about to go the way of the Dodo, but now it's the most valuable company in the world, the number two (or three) smartphone maker globally, and manufacturer of the best selling mobile device ever built. And you could say the iPhone owes much of its success because of how easy it was (and still is) to access your Google services like YouTube and Gmail. I certainly wouldn't disagree, and a lot of other people would say the same. This holds true for more than just phones, too. When it comes to the PC market that doesn't include mobile devices, would you buy a new laptop if it limited your access to Google's services? A laptop that couldn't install Chrome or visit the Google Maps website? 10 years ago, maybe, but today the answer is a resounding "no."

When the first iPhone was unveiled, the YouTube app was a marquee moment of the presentation.

It's easy to see how much dominance Google holds over the mobile computing ecosystem as a whole, but companies that make Android phones are particularly screwed if access is cut off or made more difficult. We're partially to blame because we use and rely on Google's services. Companies like Samsung and Huawei are partially to blame because they can't, for myriad reasons, offer a compelling second choice.

But mostly, Google is to blame because it likes to be successful and push its services into Android. Android without Google's services and infrastructure can be successful — every Android phone sold in China, roughly 25% of which are made by Huawei, has none of them — but people in the West would never enjoy being weaned to WeChat as a service provider. We only buy Android phones because of the value Google adds through services. If every Android OEM was cut off today, most everyone here would buy a Pixel or an iPhone as soon as they could afford it.

A slippery slope

This is a problem for all of the companies involved in making and selling Android phones. It's why we see Samsung invest time into the Galaxy Apps store and Bixby, or why LG builds webOS televisions with ThinQ, and why Huawei spent so much money on its own AI system and Chinese-specific ecosystem for mobile devices. The company that has the most to lose, though, is also the company that holds all of the cards: Google. It's already under antitrust investigation(s) concerning Android, and when we see something like the decimation of Huawei's hopes of continuing to sell phones outside of China because Google has to pull its services from the company those investigations become more and more interesting.

Right now, Google needs lawyers with as many good ideas as its software department has.

If you were to ask for my opinion on all this, I would reach for a cold beverage and say it's yet another stunt from Washington that will blow over once it's purpose has been served, Huawei will soon regain access to everything Google, and we'll all forget about it when the next bit of tech drama arises. (How much lasting damage there is to Huawei in the end will depend on the length of time that passes.) We'll also be a little savvier when it comes to how Google uses Android to further its business interests and how quickly it could cripple a partner if it were to revoke access to the Android we all love. And who knows, it might even play out that way.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • I think the only Google apps/Services I use on a regular basis are Gmail, Playstore and YouTube. I can honestly say it would not really be an issue for me to do without those being native to the phone.
  • And Google Assistant? and Reminders? Calendar?
  • Personally, I use Samsung's suite of apps on my devices, with as little interaction with Google's as possible. My Gmail account is accessed through Samsung Email (never send anything from it), I use SPlanner, Reminders (Samsung's), and Bixby. YouTube is accessed via NewPipe or Brave.
  • I love articles like this. It always serves to remind me what an odd outlier duck I must be. The idea of hardware as nice as Huawei's getting to market completely Google free is SUPER EXCITING to me. Hell, I do everything I can to eliminate Google's claws on my data/info. But considering how challenging it might be to get one in the US, I may as well look for a Sailfish device. This is why we need more OS choices, not fewer. Google's monopolistic control of the mobile market is terrifying.
  • Suggest one, Microsoft attempted but failed with Windows phone and Windows mobile partially because Google don't helped to them with applications and the developers didn't did any applications even big brands of electronics and that smartdevices never did any applications for that platform for what say Banks, so if Huawei believes that will the world adopt their OS and the developers do apps for whatever they do, I think are wrong if Microsoft and blackberry OS couldn't make turn on to developers neither will do Huawei
  • Oh yes. I knew I can count on you Jerry. TBH u are the first tech jurnalist that seems to noticed potential PR problem for Google and other US companies. If I were a CEO in any of outside US tech company, I will be really scared as hell to see how easy Google can revoke access to their services and kill even the best of phones. And I know, that the blame is on Trump's side for that decision and Google have no choice here. But the blow for credibility of US companies still can happen no matter who is responsible for that decision. It can backfire, and I wonder if anyone who stands behind that decision ever consider this.
  • @Jerry - fantastic piece as always!!
  • I think I have, having owned two Nexus 6 phones and being pretty much abandoned by Google! SO, YES, I would prefer to de-Google!
  • Moments like this make me miss my Windows Mobile device
  • I would not. Part of the reason I even stick with Google is because I have made purchases in the Play Store. If I lost access to that I would switch to iOS.
  • I have an very old ViewSonic tablet with Android 4.0.3 when I purchased that never noticed or somebody told me that haven't had Google play store or the Google services so there is it's unusable can't do anything with that tablet even can't use our recycle as photo frame or multimedia v thing because the apps can't be obtained outside play store and installing apk I tried nothing worked so there is , I currently have an Huawei mate 10 pro my family have Huawei phones what will do now will have to send to the trash those phones because although will get access to the store but what about the applications of Americans companies, Spotify, Netflix, Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Microsoft office between others will happen two scenarios will be able of still updating or when attempt to do anything with those applications will not work at all or will work very bad, also with this fact is a lesson learned don't purchase anything Chinese and also if there were an third option of operative system but Google killed to Windows mobile so there is not options in my country is only 3 brands of phones don't like Samsung phones also don't like Motorola phones and the Nokia that is now don't like either so don't have choices to get a new phone which don't get blocked by any American or European government
  • I'd have ZERO interest in any device that limited my access to Google services. Google is information .. it's communication .. YouTube alone is a modern day Alexandria. So no google..? not interested.
  • You can access google services from the browser.
  • In a "that will not happen" scenario , this could end badly for Google. Sure, Huawei will not succeed with an Android-fork of its own. But what would happen in a Tom Clany style "sum of all fears"? Let's say all the Chinese brands get together to make a plan B, a joint OS to break them free of Google and the U.S. That COULD be a viable alternative. And if it's working, maybe Samsung wants join in and LG to. The share size of that OS could be enough to push out Google or at least rework they way apps and services works and are distributed on the platform. Not saying it will happen, just that it could....
  • Samsung is in the best position to make that happen. If they released Tizen and allowed all the Chinese to jump aboard then maybe they could gain enough traction to eventually shut out the Google ecosystem. It would be hard to get people in the US to switch though. Basically it would come down to whether they can get developers to build their apps for the platform alongside iOS and Android. Mainly apps like snapchat, instagram, twitter, etc. The heavy hitters all need to be there and they need to demonstrate how easy it is to still access things like Gmail or Youtube in the browser for the few Google services that would never get a real app.
  • Great article as always Jerry. While I don't specifically "need" Google's services in my life, it is a big part of my electronic dossier. My wife and I use Google Calendar to keep things synced up in our lives. I use Google Drive frequently. I keep Gmail and Hangouts open all day. Any time I have to go someplace new, I use Google Maps. I am not a huge fan of if them having access to all my data. However, there is a price to pay for using free services that they provide.
  • The headline should be "How valuable is Android without Huawei" For the moment, Huawei ist the only company which is really innovative when it comes to Android Phones. Imagine if Huawei, LG, Samsung, HTC, Lenovo, develop and use a Google free Android as their main OS!? The question is also who´s next? Is it still possible to rely on google? What happens if country X opposes Trump, will the citizens of that country loose access to gmail or google fotos?
  • You just need to look at BB10 and the community supporting that to see how to work around the limited access to google play services. If BlackBerry had continued with BB10, instead of fully adopting Android, and kept updating their Android version, I'd still be using a proper BlackBerry device. BB10 with access to the majority of Android apps, including google apps if you were willing to put in some work, was miles ahead in my opinion. Huawei can survive with this method, it all depends how tied into the core google services you are.
  • It's basically a Kindle fire... so it's perfectly fine for most things as long as you have your own ecosystem. But the question is.. is Huawei big enough in China to sustain an ecosystem?
  • I assume that there would arise services to just put the services on the devices themselves. Several of us have done so ourselves. We might pick up a device meant for overseas without Google integrations and then we force push those services on the devices ourselves. I assume that certain payable services from people would be provided to those who want it and the devices will be the same as they were before. Although you might miss some things, the missing services that are mentioned here should more or less be covered I would think. But, the general public might not go that route.
  • I'm not going to lie, j rely on Google a lot so Android without Google services and apps is a no go for me, and I'd pick Pixel over iPhone.
  • I don't know, i do my own ROM and I actively strip Google and its spyware from the system. I don't know how much information Huawei leeches off from you back to the Chinese government, but I know 100% for sure Google sucks lots and lots and lots of data from you. Fun fact: I was in China for 5 days, and my stock Note 9 battery ran down really fast despite my best efforts. Diagnostics showed that google services (banned and blocked in China) were desperately trying to phone home and really ran down my battery. It also woke my phone up all the time just to try connect back. Yeah, all these services "whitelisted" by google to operate all the time and to maintain a connection with google. My S8 customised and stripped of all basic google stuff except play store, and allow google services to be dozed lasted 2 to 3 days .. Me? I will want an android phone without google. Everything from google can be replaced (maybe except for google accounts which I depend on at this moment, but that's just a service and not a core to android.
    Google play store? => can install hacked version
    Youtube? => lots of alternatives
    Gmail? => seriously, a spyware that poses as a ok email app isn't that attractive
    Chrome? => it doesn't take a lot of effort to find much better browsers. People just don't try. That said... The phone that you hold in your hands.. the one bought say 5 months ago.. The one that didn't receive security updates as compared to the one now... Has it stopped you from doing anything that you're doing now? I don't think so......
  • "National security is one of those things where anyone who can voice an opinion isn't really qualified to do so." You have the honor of being the first person I've heard that's said this undeniable truth. I wish other folks would recognize this before they go off voicing their opinions.