When we say Android, we always mean Google, it’s impossible to imagine one without the other. But due to US sanctions, Huawei (and, accordingly, Honor) lost access to Google services, the companies stopped not only joint projects, but also all communication. An amazing situation has developed when Huawei is trying to create an alternative to Google services on Android, to replace them. Since April, Huawei / Honor smartphones appear on the market, in which there are no services from Google, they are replaced by Huawei Mobile Services. Regular buyers often do not follow the intricacies of market relationships and perceive these devices as ordinary Android smartphones that they have become accustomed to in previous years. But many pitfalls await them, and the user experience, to put it mildly, is completely different, since many things do not work at all or work crookedly. At the end of last year, we had an article on how Huawei is replacing Google services, this was an example of the Huawei Mate 30 Pro – not the most massive model that came out in limited edition. And in many ways it was a smartphone for tech enthusiasts who could spend extra hours tweaking, trying to hack into the system to deliver Google services. Alternatively, they can do without them at all. But now we are talking about the fact that such smartphones enter the mass market and those who are not ready for this begin to use them, have no understanding of what to expect. In this article I will try to outline the pitfalls and differences between GMS (Google Mobile Services) and HMS (Huawei Mobile Services).
For comparison, I will take two smartphones – Huawei P40 Pro (initially there is no support for GMS) and Samsung S20 Ultra (my main device, also Samsung today works most closely with Google of all manufacturers). It is important to know that since 2020, Google has been consistently blocking all attempts to install GMS on Huawei / Honor smartphones, each emerging method turns out to be temporary. At the time of this writing, there is a way to install the Play Store on the latest Huawei models, but it is complicated and crooked (you can install applications from the store, notifications, Google Pay, and a number of additional features do not work normally). The question of a short time, when this method of bypassing blocking in Google will be closed, as well as the previous ones. In any case, this is a crutch that calls into question the security of data on a smartphone, and also does not provide the full capabilities of conventional applications.
In order to assess how regular Android differs from the Huawei variant, I will consider the usual use cases. These are the applications and services that we use on a daily basis and often do not pay attention to them.
On smartphones from Samsung, by default, the main screen has a search from Google, as well as a folder with applications from the company. Many applications are uncontested, as well as search, we will talk about this below.
App store – where and how to download apps
It’s hard to disagree that the app store is a key parameter in any smartphone. There is no access to the Play Store in HMS, it is simply absent, and you cannot install it (even after dancing with tambourines, it will be a temporary story, sooner or later Google will turn it off). An alternative is the App Gallery, this is an app store that Huawei develops and does it very quickly, there is no doubt about it. But even taking into account the speed that is, and the thousands of applications added, each of them has certain disadvantages. It cannot be said that familiar applications look exactly the same in HMS as on regular Android.
The reason for these differences is trivial, it lies in the fact that Android is a system created by Google, and the company’s services permeate it. Building apps using Google development tools is the easiest and fastest way developers around the world rely. Giving up these tools is a pain, and few people see any sense in it. Therefore, Huawei has to manually convince each developer that they need to rewrite the applications for their HMS, and this is a titanic work. Plus, rewriting applications isn’t always possible, and many things just don’t work. Also, many American companies cannot work with Huawei, the sanctions are similar to those that banned this work for Google. For example, let’s look at Instagram, the App Gallery does not have this application, there is only a link to the web version of the service, and when “installed” such an icon appears on the desktop.
For the average user, this is a strange solution, as it has a lot of limitations. But at the same time, you can download Instagram and install using the APK file, the application will work, there will be no special restrictions in it (they play geotags, they show strange things, but they can be hammered in by hand – an inconvenience, but not fundamental).
Many applications use authorization from Google (optionally from Facebook). As you can imagine, this authorization is not available in HMS, it simply does not work anywhere. Therefore, for most applications, this is simply not an option. The irony is that even the SwiftKey keyboard, which is standard in HMS, has this authorization (you log into your account on a web page). But phrases memorized on one device, other settings are not transferred to another. It turns out that all this is a thing in itself.
Therefore, it is impossible to equate applications in HMS and GMS, they are not the same and will not become such in the foreseeable future. Moreover, we have a lot of questions related to the integration of certain standard features that are in Android and not in HMS.
Unlimited photo storage in Google Drive, program archives
Cloud storage from Google is the standard place for storing archives of your photos and videos, you can automatically upload pictures in high quality without spending any memory in the cloud (that is, the space will be infinite). It is very convenient, and the “Disk” itself is pleasant, since it is integrated with “Google Photos”, it has exactly the same capabilities (search by keywords, for example, you can type the word “passport”, and you will immediately be shown all the photos that match under this description). For a long time I have not thought about the need to sync photos somewhere in the cloud, I’m not afraid to lose my smartphone or other device, all important photos in the cloud. Also, the archives of the settings of each device are saved here.
Huawei simply does not have any of this, you do not have the ability to save your photos in the cloud by default without any limits. Alternatively, you can put an alternative program from Yandex, but it contains ads, and it is not integrated as deeply into the system as Google’s Drive, and other features are much worse, for example, image search.
But these are only some of the problems that you will face, and they are not the most critical ones. For example, in WhatsApp, it is “Drive” from Google that is used to store archives of media and messages, there are simply no other options. And it turns out that when you change a Huawei smartphone to any device, be it Huawei / Honor or another manufacturer, you simply lose all your information, you will not be able to transfer it in some fabulous way.
And besides WhatsApp, there are many programs that also rely on Google’s “Drive” (just like Viber) to store their data and sync it across devices. Huawei has not yet been able to create alternatives for this. I would venture to suggest that third-party programs will not be able to do this, since they must be integrated into the system.
For Huawei, this is also a big problem, the more they interfere with the system, the more it differs from the basic version of Android, its own errors and opportunities arise. The discrepancy between the systems is growing, as a result, the creation of software for HMS becomes a separate task. At the first stage, Huawei can hardly afford it, so they will avoid any fundamental differences at least during 2020 and, perhaps, the first half of 2021.
He did not say anything at all about games and the synchronization of progress in applications with a proprietary service from Google, this is also not available in Huawei, for most well-known games, transferring game data from a Huawei smartphone to HMS is simply not possible anywhere.
App Notification Engine – Google vs. Huawei
Many people do not know or simply don’t understand that Google services are not so much the applications that are on your smartphone, but also what is hidden under the “hood” of the system and allows all its components to function. Third-party programs are guided by procedures written in Google; without them, some of their functions simply do not work.
It is important that programs can send notifications, otherwise there will be little sense from such programs, right? It is not very pleasant to enter the program every time to find that something has happened there. Formally, there is an alternative for Google notifications, but the developer needs to rewrite the code – it is often time-consuming and expensive. In Russia, Yandex has written versions for HMS for most of its applications, including reworking the notification system, they work. Another Internet giant mail.ru approached the issue formally, the applications have been rewritten, but they still do not know how to work with notifications. I think that sooner or later they will do it and everything will work.
But let’s think about how software from American companies, for example, Skype, will work. A check on Huawei P40 Pro showed that notifications just don’t come! You are missing messages, you are not aware of their existence. And this is just some kind of roulette, you will never know about it until you try it. The user experience is not very good.
The most popular browser on the planet is Google’s Chrome
Historically, Chrome has become the most popular browser. In my opinion, this browser is far from perfect, but it has versatility. Once signed in to your Google account, you get history, bookmarks, passwords, and preferences in sync across devices. For example, I have MacBook and Windows laptops, the latter are used for tests, various smartphones. The versatility of this approach lies in the fact that I do not need to think about my data, they are always at hand. Lots of browser extensions complement its capabilities and this is a working tool for me.
For an HMS smartphone, it is possible to download the APK of the browser from Google, moreover, this application will be installed and will work! But you will not be able to log into your Google account, that is, you will be forced to look for alternatives to this browser, since its main features will not be available to you.
The only more or less vivid alternative is the browser from Yandex, which has exactly the same capabilities. But this means that you will need to use it on all devices, install it separately. The number of those who use the browser from Yandex is quite small, among the mass user it is a small figure. The transition is relatively painful, since you will need to forget all your bookmarks, passwords and just start life from scratch.
Voice functions – voice input, text decryption
Google is ahead of the whole planet in terms of the quality of voice decryption in different languages, the company’s engine easily copes with dozens of languages, is able to recognize another language in a phrase. And this de facto has become a kind of standard, for example, in the car, I can often ask my smartphone to search for something or type a message, and all this without hands, only with my voice. Fantasy? The commonplace in our times.
There are simply no voice functions in HMS, or rather, they remained from Google. In the same keyboard, it is suggested to download an engine from Google, but it is simply not available.
You cannot get voice functions as an assistant. In order to solve this problem in Russia, Huawei added a voice assistant Marusya, but its integration with the system is minimal, and the quality of the assistant itself lags behind even Alice. This is a rather squalid, stripped-down solution.
And here Huawei is lagging behind Google for many years, it will not be possible to solve this issue quickly and painlessly. Therefore, when choosing a Huawei / Honor smartphone, you need to forget about the possibility of voice control, advanced assistants.
Payment systems – no Google Pay
For Android smartphones, the Google Pay payment system is the main one, on Samsung you can also use the native Samsung Pay, there is a choice of such systems. All banking applications are integrated with these systems and allow you to work with them. At the same time, HMS does not have its own payment system, which is a huge disadvantage. In Russia, there is a third-party application “Wallet”, it can be called an external crutch so that you can pay for purchases in a contactless way. Integration into the system is also not the same as in the case of the listed systems.
But, at least, there is an opportunity to pay somehow, quite recently this was not at all.
Google Maps is the standard for third-party apps
For Android app developers, the easiest way to add maps to their apps is to use Google Maps. It is not so important what kind of application it is, for example, it can be food delivery (we do not take Yandex into account, they use their cards, and this is a happy exception). Every time you try to enter the cards, they swear, as their support is simply not available in HMS. And besides delivery services, there are many other applications, and at least the same Tinder that is used for dating.
It is also impossible to put cards separately, you simply have no alternative. And this lack of an alternative is a clear sign of HMS in its current state.
Unpredictability when installing applications from APK
Huawei is forced to survive, the creation of its alternative to Google services did not come from a good life. It is impossible to check tens of thousands of applications, this is a huge layer of work, as well as contacting all the developers and persuading them to spend time and money on rewriting software. Therefore, many applications work in a strange way, it is good when they are simply not installed, for example, like the Gett taxi service.
After installation, Vkusville requires an update and sends you to the Play Store, this is a very common situation, many applications take you there by default. This is especially ironic in the case of Yandex applications that are installed from the App Gallery, they periodically forget about where to direct the user and knock on the store from Google without receiving an answer!
And such examples are far from isolated, there are a lot of them, there is no point in describing each one.
Short conclusion: HMS is the alternative to GMS today or not
The creation of HMS did not come from a good life, but because of the US sanctions, which appeared unexpectedly. Huawei is putting a lot of effort into HMS, trying to convince developers to write their applications for this system. Someone is strategically investing in this direction, many are waiting for them to be paid for it, and this is utopia, since there is clearly not enough money for everyone.
So far, HMS looks like an attempt to provide an alternative to conventional Android smartphones, to replace standard, familiar applications and services. But it is impossible to create a complete, logical and problem-free system in such a short time frame. If on the same Samsung smartphones you get any native service from Google, as well as all the variety of additional software without any restrictions, then on Huawei, as a rule, this is one service that is weaker than that on a smartphone with GMS. There are no alternatives in HMS today, they are simply not available. Those applications that work do not always do it to the fullest and are noticeably weaker than they are on regular Android with Google services. Alas, this is the reality, the only question is how to relate to it.
It is impossible to count on the fact that Huawei will be able to solve all these problems in a jerk. This is a long, complex process and will take at least several years. And then on condition that Android will be available in its version without GMS, as there are persistent rumors that due to the trade war, this version of Android may also stop developing and cut Huawei off from this system completely. When you read the news about the actions of the US government against Huawei, it no longer seems as fantastic as it did a few months ago.
When buying Huawei / Honor on HMS, you need to clearly and in detail understand what limitations the system has today. The ability to install the Play Store and Google services is either completely absent, or very limited – all loopholes Google will close. Therefore, it is definitely not worth counting on. And you need to focus on how you will use your smartphone, how much its capabilities will be enough for you in such a truncated form.
For the tech enthusiast, it might be a good toy to experiment with, to be in the business. For a mass buyer, this is definitely a complex product, which is justified only in the case of basic scenarios, when there is no need for something complex – a messenger, a browser, some additional programs. At the same time, you need to understand that you will not be able to transfer program data to another smartphone, your smartphone becomes a thing in itself, during migration you will take only content, but not correspondence in messengers (Telegram is a happy exception).
Many American companies do not have the right to work with Huawei, so their software for HMS will never be written and will not appear in the system, for some it will be a revelation, but this is the case.
In retail, when selling smartphones on HMS, buyers should be warned that they do not support services from Google, so as not to mislead people. Often they don’t. Even more often I see reviews that HMS is a complete alternative to Google services and there is no difference, this text itself proves that this is not so.
Considering that the cost of hardware (read, Huawei / Honor smartphones) is the same as that of similar Android smartphones, you need to clearly understand what you do not get in terms of software, what restrictions await you. This is an important moment when you need to be aware even before buying what is present in HMS and what is not, so that your purchase does not turn into a headache for you. You need to realistically assess your needs and what HMS has today. Reality is always important so that there are no disappointments and wasted nerves.
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