Six months ago, I tested the Huawei App Gallery to see how many apps I needed to use regularly were available, and if not, how easy it was to find them. Starting a life without Google back then was not easy and required patience and ingenuity to overcome some difficult issues.
Since then, Huawei has been working hard to improve the store, which has more apps and a new smart search system, so what does it look like now? To find out, I made a fresh start with the Huawei P40 Pro.
What is the app gallery?
Most people know that US companies cannot do business with Huawei due to a ban introduced by the US government, and that includes Google. Forbidden to access Google Play, Huawei has accelerated the development of its own ecosystem – Huawei Mobile Services (HMS) – for use on its products, and a significant part of it is the Huawei Application Gallery. The App Gallery is Huawei’s alternative to the Google Play Store and allows you to download some of the apps you need.
My requirements are apparently relatively basic. I have about 45 apps that I install on every phone I use, and Huawei’s research indicates that most people have between 80 and 100 apps on their phone. With 81,000 apps now available in the App Gallery, up from around 50,000 at the start of the year, surely I would have less trouble getting the apps I need this time around? The company has put a lot of effort into adding apps with local relevance, but admits that many apps created by US companies are missing.
To help you overcome the problems of finding and installing the apps you need, Huawei has added a new service called Petal Search. It is an organized database of a million apps and is designed to guide you to where the app you need is available for download on your phone, be it from app gallery, developer’s website, or other source. Unfortunately, this doesn’t include Amazon’s App Store, which is a primary non-Google source for common US apps – you have to search for this separately.
Find my apps
Let’s start with the social and messaging apps, which most people consider essential for the day-to-day use of their phones. Using Petal Search, WhatsApp was found as an APK through WhatsApp’s own website. Switching to Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Slack, Petal Search simply guided me to APKPure, where APK files (Android app installation files) can be downloaded to install the app. Alternatively, these can be downloaded from the Amazon App Store, which is more preferable than using raw APKs given that there is an extra level of verification involved.
There are some issues with manual installation of apps using APK files. These are unofficial sources, and while APKPure is generally reliable, it is prudent to be wary of getting apps that store personal or financial information in this way. While this is a workaround for those who need apps on their new phones, it’s not a complete solution. Moreover, since Petal Search just brings you to the APKPure site, you can also download the APKPure app itself, which will make it easier to update apps in the future.
There is also the added frustration that while you can install an app manually with its APK file, the app may not be fully functional when installed on an Android phone other than Google. Many apps are designed to connect specifically to Google’s services for data logging, notifications, maps, and other features, and without Google’s basics on your phone, they just won’t work.
As I continued to go through my list using Petal Search, it became clear how much of a practical time saver it is for newcomers to Huawei, or those who are not very technical. In the absence of a well-stocked app store, finding your app in Petal Search saves time compared to using a search engine, where the chances of being directed to sources less reliable are larger.
The app will direct you to the app gallery when it finds an app available there – WeChat and Amazon Shopping, for example – to the developer site or to APKPure. Doing all of this in one place, quickly, removes one of the annoying obstacles I discovered the last time I did it, using the Mate Xs foldable smartphone in March.
So everything’s OK ? No. Huawei has made Petal Search its equivalent to the main Google app, adding so much extra content that isn’t even slightly relevant to app search, it makes the app cumbersome and confusing. Open the app and the homepage is filled with news, some links to AliExpress and other news, and a search bar that adds “trending” topics as suggestions.
Tap Search on the bottom menu and you can finally start searching for apps, but again Huawei adds trending topics in the search bar and highlights them at the top of the page as well. Below are some locally relevant application suggestions. Even the returned results add options for news, images, and video results. It’s annoying because not only does it essentially duplicate what you find by swiping right on the home screen, but people run the risk of opening Petal Search and dismissing it as bloatware, missing its only useful feature.
Selection of applications
Petal Search is frustrating when it shouldn’t, but once you dig deep enough it helps you find the apps you need quickly, even though it primarily sends you to APKPure.com. What if you just wanted to use the App Gallery? It offers various well-known apps including Snapchat, Tinder, TikTok, Sky Go, Viber, Telegram, Deezer, VLC, UKTV Play, PUBG Mobile, Curve, AccuWeather and a healthy collection of games. Whether this is good enough will depend on your own personal needs. But honestly, you’ll probably run into at least a few key apps that are missing.
Look for an app in the app gallery and sometimes you get a suggestion for a “quick app”. Airbnb is one example. Open these links and you get an app-like web page that can be added to your phone’s home screen. The experience is decent with a lot of speed and makes a good substitute for an official app, but the selection is relatively limited.
A cool new addition to the app gallery since I last used it is TomTom Go Navigation. Before that, and without Google Maps, the only real mapping app in the App Gallery was Here WeGo maps, which is competent but not particularly convincing. TomTom Go Navigation focuses on route guidance, with excellent traffic data and a clear route, but does not provide directions for public transport or on foot.
Because it doesn’t care about navigation on foot, the maps don’t include these routes, nor a wide range of local points of interest, making it difficult to complete an entire trip using it. Strangely, the app even limits you to adding just five more points of interest to show on the map, rather than just showing everything and letting you narrow it down. Worse yet, the app is not free and requires a monthly subscription of 1.99 Euro / $ 2.35 to use. This alone means that it is not a replacement for Google Maps, although it is clearly not even a close competitor based on its feature set.
The same old problems remain
Six months later, Huawei’s app gallery is obviously improving, but no big step forward has been made. Petal Search helps, but the app experience is not very good, and paying for TomTom Go Navigation is a serious barrier to adoption when it doesn’t offer navigation on foot, by bike, or in local areas. public transport.
I turned to the Amazon App Store for several apps, but they are often out of date and installing APKs from APKPure for banking apps seems risky. There isn’t a free and easy option to restore old chats from WhatsApp, Line, or any other app that relies on Google Drive for backups, and the P40 Pro can’t control my gear either. Google smart home.
Much of the HMS experience fell short of expectations, and Huawei still has a long way to go.
In the end, very little has changed for me personally since I used the App Gallery on the Huawei Mate Xs earlier this year. Everyone’s needs are different, and I’m approaching this from the perspective of someone who has been using the Google ecosystem for years, so inevitably change will be difficult and will require sacrifice. You might not have the same problem, especially if you are coming from iOS (where some of the same problems will occur if you switch to another Google phone) or if you live where Google apps are not. as commonly used as in Europe. or in North America.
Six months is a long time to use any smartphone, but it’s not a long time in the life of an app store or mobile ecosystem, especially one that is young. Huawei still needs time, but some of the new features considered to be important advancements in everyday usability – Petal Search and TomTom Go Navigation – fell short of expectations, highlighting not only the difficulty Huawei is having with HMS, but also the amount of time it will take for him to really take on Apple and Google.