Unless you’re an iPhone user or live in China, there’s a good chance that the smartphone you use comes preloaded with the Google Play app store. But this week, news surfaced that Huawei, Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo are building a joint platform to challenge Google’s dominance.

Google’s app store has become so ubiquitous around the world, any suggestion that a real contestant might emerge has large implications. But it’s important to note the limitations of what these Chinese phone giants have in store.

Under the Global Developer Service Alliance (GDSA), Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi are building a tool that allows developers to upload an app just once and see it appear on all their respective app stores. The GDSA website says the service will be available in nine countries and regions including India, Indonesia, Russia and Malaysia.

The Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 phone. (Picture: Ben Sin/South China Morning Post)

While Reuters reported that Huawei is part of the joint effort, neither of the statements given to us by Oppo or Vivo mentioned Huawei. Both Huawei and Xiaomi declined to comment.

Oppo and Vivo, though, have made it clear that this isn’t an app store merger: Each company will still maintain their own app stores. Even then, some industry experts say it’s difficult to run an alliance like this.

The challenge lies partly in motivating developers outside of China to participate, according to Linda Sui, director of smartphone strategies at research firm Strategy Analytics. Similar alliances haven’t succeeded in the past because of Google’s dominance, she said. And even if the Chinese giants were to actually collaborate, it’s unclear how resources would be allocated.

Granted, Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo don't have as much of an urgent need as Huawei to boost their own app stores. Since the US placed China’s top phone maker on a blacklist last year, it’s been barred from using Google services. New Huawei phones have since shipped without Google Play or apps like YouTube and Google Maps, which has hit Huawei’s international sales, according to research firm IDC.

To counter Google’s dominance, Huawei says it’s been working on its own operating system called HarmonyOS. It also rolled out the Ark Compiler, a tool meant to allow developers to quickly port Android apps to HarmonyOS. It’s proven to be an arduous and challenging process, though: When Huawei first released the Ark Compiler’s framework source code last summer, some programmers complained that it felt half-finished.