What apps can you find on Huawei phone after 4 years of sanctions: a grueling experience

You can still buy Huawei in Western markets, but there are fewer and fewer reasons to do so. Four years after crippling sanctions, Huawei has built its own detached ecosystem, moving away from Android.

Many users in the US and Europe used to love this brand. Huawei was the second best-selling smartphone maker globally, outselling Apple and vying for Samsung’s crown.

After the US sanctions in 2019, this became tough love, and only a few remaining die-hard fans remain. They still love the hardware, but the problems begin when you look inside.

Want Google Maps or YouTube on a Huawei phone? Tutorials online explain that you need to change some settings, disable some security features, sideload a free third-party app that “prioritizes user privacy,” install Google Play, and then get the apps you like, bypassing Huawei App Gallery restrictions. It may take 30 minutes to follow through.

With apps such as MicroG, Gbox, or Googlefier, the process is somewhat streamlined, but workarounds are tiring for Huawei users and often introduce other issues.

Want to contact your friends on Facebook? You can download multiple versions of the Messenger apps straight from the Huawei App Gallery store. Keep in mind that these apps will not be developed by Meta.

If you want to add Spotify to your pretty Huawei watch, you might as well become a hacker. Here are some tips some users shared on Huawei’s community support section:

“I used AudBite Music Converter to download Spotify music in MP3 320kbps. The sound quality is high and lossless. I can transfer any converted DRM-free songs to any device I want for offline playing, including Huawei Watch,” Sabrina shared.

“I use another tool called AudKit Spotify SpotiLab Downloader to download Spotify songs on my Huawei watch. Then play the songs on my watch without a phone nearby,” another user, Johnny, said.

There’s no Google Pay or Android Auto. The ecosystem is plagued with converters, sideloading, or tools for the basic Western services that come to every other phone so easily. On top of that, there are worries about privacy and security when sharing your accounts with third parties and, ultimately, national security.

But Huawei may be itself just giving up on the markets where it’s no longer welcome while chewing on Apple’s market share in China, its home market.

The final straw that could finally break the camel’s back is the announcement that a Chinese manufacturer is abandoning Android roots for the new versions of its mobile operating system, HarmonyOS. The system will no longer contain code from the Android Open Source Project, and devices will lose support for the remaining Android apps this year.

After Huawei was sanctioned by being added to the US Entity list in 2019, American companies couldn’t sell any technology to it without obtaining a special export license. While Huawei equipment is banned in the US, smartphones can still be acquired in many European and other markets. The catch – they will come without Google’s services and apps.

AppGallery does not load in the US, at least not at the time of writing, and in Europe, the most popular apps in Huawei’s AppGallery are often of Chinese origin.

Apps in Poland
Most popular apps in Poland

It's no surprise that TikTok takes the number one spot in many European markets, followed by Shein, a shopping app.

Often at the top, you will find the GBox app, a tool for bypassing sanctions and adding Google services and the Google App Store.

The WPS Office app is used for PDFs and documents. Rakuten Viber Messenger is the most popular instant messaging software, closely followed by Snapchat.

For email, there’s the Outlook app developed by Microsoft (China) Co., Ltd, a company from Beijing.

For mobile payments, GCash, a Filipino mobile payment service, and the Curve app are both trending.

For video editing, users often choose the CapCut app created by ByteDance. Video downloaders are also popular, probably to access content on YouTube.

Huawei users can download Tinder or Badoo for dating, Revolut for banking, and Telegram or Snapchat for messaging. There are also local apps, such as Lotto24 in Germany or Allegro, for shopping in Poland.

Top apps on two stores

It may not be that different from the Google Play store, where Temu and TikTok also dominate the charts.

None of these apps appears to be at the top in China, and Huawei also has its own alternatives for almost everything: Huawei Music, Huawei Browser, Huawei Wallet, Huawei Assistant, Huawei Video, Huawei Mobile Claud, Huawei Books, Huawei Weather, and AI search.

All these apps exceeded 100 million users, while HUAWEI Mobile Services (HMS) had more than 580 million users, the company boasted in its annual report.

top apps in Hong Kong
Top AppGallery apps in Hong Kong.

The users struggle

Huawei may introduce 5.5G internet in China with blazing speeds of 10 Gbit. But users in Europe struggle with the devices they once loved.

“I was an avid Huawei fan. I have used their phones, laptops, tablets and watches at some stage. Today, only the watch survives,” Marty Meany, a founder of goosed.ie, a tech news and reviews website in Ireland, told Cybernews.

Huawei took Ireland by storm with the P20 Pro model, which has a leading camera for the price. The record-selling model was soon followed by a successful P30 series.

“Everyone loved it. You still hear people today say it was the best phone they ever had. All the tech you could want at a great price. The operating system was clean with very little bloatware. Battery life was also noteworthy along with display quality. The P20 and P30 series were the best Android devices on the market at the time,” Meany said.

He praised the phone back in 2019 and gave the P30 Pro a score of 4.6 out of 5 in his review.

But then came the sanctions. And Meany understood the effect of these sanctions when it came to purchasing his next phone, the Huawei P40 Pro.

“I was using a non-Android Huawei smartphone with Huawei App Gallery. It was very tough to use. Apps just weren't there. Basic features by modern standards, such as paying with a phone, were only possible through third-party workarounds. And they never work properly – particularly anything to do with finance,” Meany explained.

“It's a shame things like this happened and that a phone series that had a one–way–up trajectory quickly plummeted. The Irish market has toyed with OPPO, OnePlus, Xiaomi, and Honor, but no phone series has ever matched the incredible run of the P20 and P30 series,” he continued.

Later, he explained that Huawei had decided to discontinue sales of its products in Ireland as well as in many other countries.

“So now, my Huawei Watch is the only survivor. How is it? It's very barebones. I like it for notifications, checking heart rate, and similar. But I still can't install any new apps on the watch or use it for payments, etc.”

Huawei taking its own path

During its annual developer conference HDC 2024, Huawei officially launched the next iteration of its homegrown operating system, HarmonyOS NEXT, according to GizmoChina. The OS ditches the Linux kernel and Android codebase entirely.

Huawei claims the new architecture delivers 30% performance improvements and 20% reductions in power consumption. The company demonstrated it running across various screen sizes on different devices with popular local apps like Taobao, Yiche, Bilibili, and others.

According to China Daily, HarmonyOS Next will no longer support Android apps or read Android code. The next OS version will include strict app vetting, and apps that don’t meet security standards will be blocked.

Huawei’s approach finds success in China – Cybernews already reported that a wave of patriotism pushed sales by 70% in Q1 2024, while Apple’s share decreased by 19%.

According to Huawei, the HarmonyOS 4 version was deployed on over 800 million devices in 2023.