How does an Android phone work without Google apps? Look at China
Debate over Google’s dominance revives after EU ruling
In most of the world, Google’s apps have become so ubiquitous it’s hard to find an Android device without some pre-installed.
But an EU antitrust ruling this week raised that prospect, after it fined Google for forcibly bundling services like Search, Chrome and Maps on devices.
Some have said they can’t imagine using Android without Google. But in the world’s largest smartphone market, tens of millions of Android handsets are sold without any Google apps at all.
Yup, I’m talking about China.
Since 2010, when Google pulled its search engine from mainland China out of censorship concerns, the majority of Google apps and services are blocked in the country.
The first thing you’ll notice missing on most Android phones sold in China: Google Play. Replacing it are individual app stores from smartphone makers like Xiaomi, Huawei, Oppo and Vivo -- as well as tech giants like Tencent, Baidu, Sogou and Qihoo.
Many of these stores actually provide a wide range of Google apps -- but most need access to Google’s servers to run, meaning they can’t function without using a VPN to bypass China’s Great Firewall.
Without Google’s default dominance, China’s mobile landscape looks very different from the West. According to Chinese data analytics firm QuestMobile, Tencent’s QQ Browser led the pack last year among mobile browsers, not Chrome. China’s most popular map app was Gaode Maps, not Google Maps. The top video app was Baidu’s iQiyi, not YouTube. And the most popular search engine was Baidu, not Google.
It's hard to see those apps breaking into the West -- partially because, realistically speaking, Google apps aren't going away.
Unlike in China, Europeans can freely seek out and use Google apps even if they aren’t bundled with Android. Given how many Europeans are already hooked on Google’s popular services, it’s possible that some phone makers will choose to preload Google apps on their devices, even if they aren’t forced to do so.
It’s hard to see this as the trigger for everyone to switch to Gaode Maps, but the ruling does provide hope for the competition, at least according to Firefox maker Mozilla. An executive told the Associated Press this could be "a huge opportunity."