Huawei can't use Google Services so it's paying developers $1 billion to build for its own app store

The Huawei Mate 30 Pro may be the best phone of the year. May being the optimal word, because anyone who was planning to buy it probably won't now that we know it's shipping without Google services.

The Mate 30 series is the first phone released by Huawei to fall under the ban issued earlier this year by the U.S. Commerce Department prohibiting American companies from selling goods or services to Huawei. As a result, Google isn't allowed to provide access to what is an increasingly core part of the Android experience: Google Play Services. Not only does that prevent the phone from shipping with Google's most popular apps — Gmail, Maps, Photos, YouTube, and the Play Store — but it undermines the way that Google has architected modern Android on the back of Google Play Services.

Play Services is more than just a way for Google to pre-install its own apps. It is the conduit for notifications, maps, and security that most third-party apps take for granted. If an app relies on sending timely notifications — Instagram, Slack, Facebook, etc. — the lack of Play Services may affect its ability to do that. Similarly, most third-party apps rely on Google Maps integration for location data, since Google makes it difficult to rely on other providers.

So how is Huawei expecting to get around this? In China, it has its own Huawei App Gallery, which already has thousands of apps available to download. To power things like location services, cloud management, notifications and gaming, it uses Huawei Mobile Services to serve as a de facto replacement for Google Play Services.

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Now, HMS is moving beyond just China, and Huawei has a plan to get U.S.-based developers to build apps for the nascent platform. At the Mate 30 keynote, Huawei CEO Richard Yu talked about an upcoming HMS Ecosystem Incentive Program, where it would invest $1 billion USD to encourage developers to build apps and get them marketed on Huawei phones outside China. It will even provide a greater revenue share to those developers — 85%, compared to the 70% that Google and Apple offer today.

He also talked about how, while Google services will not be available in the Huawei App Gallery, they will be available to sideload on Huawei phones and, provided the company can get third-party developers to publish their apps to the Huawei App Gallery, the Android experience on EMUI 10 — which is based on Android 10 — shouldn't be too different from previous Huawei phones. During a press briefing at the Munich launch of the Mate 30 series, Yu said he regrets that it came to this:

We didn't want to do this. In the past we've never done this, but we have to do this. The US government has forced us to do this, [and] we have no other choice. Google and other US companies know we were forced to do this.

Yu also said that Huawei is considering loading other third-party app stores from companies like Aptoide and F-Droid. Amazon's Appstore is likely the one most familiar to users in the west, but it's unlikely Huawei will be allowed to distribute anything from the U.S.-based company, either.

Of course, whether that bears out, in reality, remains to be seen. Huawei has dedicated billions of dollars and years of time in improving the software experience on its Android handsets, but it doesn't and likely never will have proper replacements for Google Maps, YouTube and Google Photos.

The Mate 30 series will go on sale in October in parts of Europe and the UK, and Yu says carriers will sell the phones as they always have. The company is considering opening up the bootloader for tweakers to get their hands dirty with custom ROMs, something the company locked down last year due to security concerns.

Either way, Yu expects the phone to sell in fewer numbers outside of China than it otherwise would have:

In China, we expect it will grow heavily but in the west, we may see a drop. After the ban in May, we saw a huge drop in retail sales but it's now rebounding very quickly and we think we can sell more than 20 million phones. (The Mate 20 series sold 16 million devices and there were 17 million P30 series phones sold).

Of course, Huawei is looking for a last-minute reprieve from the U.S. government that would give companies like Google an exception to provide Google Services to Huawei and offer long-term security and platform updates. If that scenario does emerge, Huawei says that it's ready and has the infrastructure in place to push an over-the-air update to existing Mate 30 devices.

Daniel Bader

Daniel Bader was a former Android Central Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor for iMore and Windows Central. 

  • The phone looks fantastic but personally I won't be buying another Huawei until their own ecosystem matures or the Google mess is sorted. I've been down that path before with Windows Phone....
  • And as I'm finishing reading this article I get an e-mail from Samsung (Latin America) for the Note 10 with a simple header: Enjoy updates, apps and Google services. Ouch! I have a P30 Pro, which I really like. It's a shame that all this is going on. Wonder what will happen if the U.S. decides that South Korea is a threat to national security? I really don't like iOS, but at this rate I think that my next upgrade will be to an iPhone and just play it safe.
  • I have a Pixel 2 XL and love it. The software updates just keep coming. That's the good thing.
    The bad thing, is most third-party developers cannot keep up with the latest operating system updates, and their widgets fail miserably.
    I went with Android because of the versatility, and now I'm finding out due to fragmentation between OEMs and developers, there is really not that much available to the overall user base. A lot of my favorite third party apps become broken after an OS update... So now we are back to - you better choose an OEM and stick with it's overall limitation to third party apps.
    It is what it is....
    Apple is on my short list, very short list. But it too has limitations...
  • The US and South Korea are tight. It's almost a protectorate. Barring a takeover by the north that simply won't happen. I just hope Lenovo owned Motorola doesn't get on our Presidents bad side. Sigh. Besides our majestic leader likes Samsung phones himself. You can buy Samsung with confidence.
  • You never now, Trump keeps saying that the military exercises with South Korea are a waste of money! I've been a long time Samsung user, got tired of them not using the Snapdragon SoC outside of the US and China. The only thing that they have in their favor is that they are marketed very aggressively and are usually very cheap if bought on day one. I do suffer from the Android update bug, and carriers down here (Dominican Republic) are very slow with the updates. Maybe I'll go with a Pixel 5 next year.
  • Moving to Apple or iOS is not exactly an "upgrade" hehe...
  • I know LOL!
  • South Korea is a great ally and one of the ways that the US keeps an eye on China.
  • Actually Samsung will have minimum effects compared to Huawei. Samsung has been rumored to ditch google for his own Tizen os for years. Samsung manufactures most of the chipset by their own. Screen, battery, ram, storage, camera, processor. All by Samsung. And the Galaxy store is more western country oriented compared to Huawei appgallery. So, developers will be easier to make apps for Samsung. For example, ACR is a call recorder, android pie banned apps from showing phone numbers in apps, so the developers made a Samsung version which less restriction.
  • Why not a Pixel 4? That can't be banned this way. Stay in the ecosystem.
  • We have choice now!
  • The same Google Services can be uploaded, not something hard to do, those with the knowledge base beyond the basic user could easily do this, and no doubt the vast majority who frequent AC and like websites would have no problems doing this, plus numerous youtube how to video's would make it a snap.
    Have an Note 10 Plus, so have no intention of buying it, LTE bands and warranty is another reason. If this device is what it say's it's going to be, it will a great device. Good luck to all those who get one. I have mixed feelings of Huawei I understand bans on infrastructure, towers. But phones are a different matter. Hopefully this ban is curtailed or at least like a six month extension (or similar) will allow the the P30 Pro will be released with Google services. My daughter has an older Mate 1o Pro and she loves it.
  • I think Huawei should build an open mobile ecosystem. No developer will want to build apps specifically for Huawei devices I'm afraid.
  • Huawei has already said that their OS will be open.
  • Yeah open can mean anything. Basically you are building to Huawei ecosystem. Outside of China not sure why developers will care.
  • Their app store is open? Sweet! Will they pay me to build my Free Hong Kong tactical game for their store?
  • Lack of Google is a major plus! They just need to get real with the pricing.
  • No it's not... And any potential customer outside of China will almost surely feel the same way.
  • Remember the time when someone tried to make their own app ecosystem? The company almost went bankrupt. See BlackBerry/BB10
  • BB was different--smaller and cash-limited player competing on the world stage. I had some insight and my impression was that they also did not believe in themselves. I had BB phones, and liked the company but too much of what they did was half-a**ed optics, and that's after they fell asleep at the wheel. [Ref: Alicia Keys, BB 'design consultant,' and her inseparable iPhone.] Huawei has China to itself mostly, and the Chinese government to please. Whole different ballgame.
  • Five years from now, Google may not be happy that Donny gave serious fuel toward the creation of a true Android-like competitor. Huawei is of no interest to me as phone BTW--at least now. My daughter's Honor 10 has fallen so, so far below expectations--she being a former iPhone user. At least on that one sample, the H10 was not premium, did not 'punch above its weight,' and was no true competitor to the S8, as the pitch implied. That said, Huawei investing billions to stabilize its 'app situation' is the right move. Still raises more questions though. Does that seemingly bottomless well of money to throw at every problem serve to further confirm excessive closeness to the Chinese government?
  • Can't understand why most developers wouldn't publish their apps in Huawei's app gallery? Would have thought it would be simple to do and they would increase their revenue by 15% with every sale...
  • This is something that will create another opportunity for those who thinks they can develop anything possible. Even my huawei can't access more like it's limited now