I would have liked to have finished my trilogy with a guide titled: How to install the Google Play Store on the Honor 9X Pro. But despite everything I tried, I failed. Instead, some hacker from China probably has administrator access to my smartphone now. Honestly, you are better off living without Google and switching to Plan B completely, or buying another smartphone! Here's what happened when I tried to put the Play Store on the Honor 9X Pro.
In the second part of this series of articles, Huawei without Google: how to replace missing apps and services, I was still optimistic that I could somehow bridge the problem with desktop websites, sideloading apps, and other alternatives until the AppGallery finally fills up with popular apps that use the Huawei framework of HMS, location services, etc. instead of Google services. But if even a patient, dogged and curious tech editor runs out of breath after only three weeks with a Google-less smartphone.
Trying to install the Play Store manually on the Huawei P40, Honor 9X Pro or any other of the new De-Googled Huawei and Honor phones will start to look tempting. So I tried that last week as well. And I often didn't feel comfortable doing it.
When you gaze long into the abyss...
The methods seemed to be tried and tested. It has long been common practice to install Google apps on mobile phones imported from China. So-called helper apps could be found in the pre-installed app shops under the search term "Google". Just three taps, and the Play Store, GMS, and so on were functional. The device was virtually an EU citizen.
But the glory years are obviously over. I also found several promising instructions for the Honor 9X Pro online. They all had one thing in common: they don't work. But that is not the worst thing, and I was lucky that I was never asked to pay at any time. By the way, the following Oscar winner brought me the farthest:
The videos often have a download link in their descriptions. This link points - if you are lucky - to online storage (Mega, GMX, Google (LOL!)) with a ZIP or RAR archive. If you are less fortunate, you will be directed to the download server via a spam page. If you are unlucky, the advertising page will remain and you will have to use the machete to free yourself from it.
In the mentioned archive there is a backup that you can restore by using the corresponding function in the device settings. Often you will find the Google Helper torn above. In some guides, you install it in the usual way (i.e. via sideloading on a Huawei), make a backup using the function just mentioned, modify the backup with any files from the ominous archive and finally restore the forked backup. Obviously, installation via the backup system is a replacement for the missing possibility to inject installation packages via a recovery interface, which I will discuss later.
If you open the Google Helper installed in this way, it will be... intimate. You have to press many Chinese labeled buttons at once. I have nothing against Chinese, I just can't understand it. You could also hold another smartphone over it with Google Translate (LOL again) and let it translate the characters live. But since my colleague Stefan was not there to take a picture, I decided not to do so. What really bothered me, however, was that the app requires administrator rights.
Most of the instructions circulating so far are still checked how-to's from nice sources. But if the Honor- and Huawei-devices increase a bit in volume, there will be some bad guys circling soon. And with such administrative privileges, they can lock your screen and only release it again for cash. Yes, friends: this is called ransomware.
Why does it fail?
Google knows what kind of device it is dealing with. The current political situation forces both sides (i.e. Google and Huawei) to be very careful. Google is blocking Honor devices based on their device identifier and Huawei is plugging any gaps in their systems that might be used to implement the instructions explained above.
Huawei's second motivation is, of course, to encourage developers in the West to adapt by using as many Google-less devices as possible. Their apps should also be available in the AppGallery and run with HMS core. The feature gaps will be closed, Huawei will earn a share of the revenue, users will no longer share their data with Google (but with a company that reports to the CPC, yay!), and everyone is happy.
But if instead of many de-Googled-Huawei's, manually installed Play Stores do not force the developers to move, it is bad for Huawei's business. Completely bad, because then only the niche customers remain, who watch the above YouTube videos for breakfast. (I was one of you last week, brothers!)
Custom ROM with GApps or MicroG: not an option with Honor and Huawei
Now that I have your attention, I would be really happy if we could at least unlock the bootloader of the Huawei devices. Then ID spoofing would be possible, which would allow us to use the MicroG framework. Because that had solved all relevant problems with GMS-dependent apps.
A custom recovery would logically bring us ten steps closer to a custom ROM. We could easily install it with a Google Apps package. This third-party firmware usually does the so-called "Google Play Certification" for you in the background (as explained in an old blog post from the Lineage OS team), so that the error shown above does not occur.
... the abyss gazes also into you
I think Huawei is currently facing the biggest first world problem in the tech bubble. At the same time, the three weeks with the forcibly de-googled Android smartphone allowed me a little self-reflection. Why does it hurt so much when the Play Store is suddenly gone? What kind of relationship do we actually have? What has Google ever done for me?
Huawei could have built a great counterweight to Google. Because if you put the relationship between Google and the hardware manufacturers or app developers on Facebook, it would say: "It's complicated". Because the corset of guidelines into which Google is forcing its supposed partners for the above-mentioned certification is becoming ever tighter. The search engine giant and de facto monopolist deserves competition and an occasional veto.
But now Huawei has missed the moment to insert one. Huawei would have probably appeared sooner or later anyway with a Google-less product line here in Europe or in an emerging market. Maybe it could have sold its HMS concept to Xiaomi or Samsung with a little more openness in the matter. And now Huawei is supposed to pull itself over the fence all by itself with its own boot (hence the term "bootstrapping". Interesting, isn't it?) and take the whole fanbase with it.
Next week, I will start a test with a €100 smartphone with Android Go. Android Go is for Android what methadone is for heroin. And this is exactly how my anticipation for this test feels. It doesn't have the wickedness of the full Google package yet, but enough to get me back to my usual flood of notifications. Hmmmmm, Google...