As of May 2019, Huawei is reportedly working on the HMS Core and the Huawei AppGallery as part of its own Android-based software ecosystem as opposed to the Google-based Google Play Services and Google Play Store. But you are in trouble if it can’t even bring an app as popular as WhatsApp. Hence, Huawei’s new Petal Search comes into play, an app solution atop a search engine augmenting the Huawei AppGallery for app distribution and discovery.
Following the US President Donald Trump signing an executive order that has restricted US companies to sell products to Huawei, Google is unable to form a new Mobile Application Distribution Agreements (MADAs) with Huawei that eventually restricts the company to distribute Google Mobile Services (GMS) on its new mobile phones. The Google Mobile Services (GMS) refer to a suite of proprietary Google applications including the likes of YouTube, Google Search, Google Chrome, Google Play Store, and Google Play Services.
Then came in the Huawei AppGallery. Huawei has always been vocal regarding developers, users, and institutions showing interest in the AppGallery stating agreements with 15 major banks from Turkey. You’ll find popular apps such as AccuWeather, BBS News, Booking.com, TikTok, Viber, etc. in the platform but nowhere near to the Google Play Store yet.
Apps on the Google Play Store leverages a wide range of developer APIs. Meaning, the app you download from outside the Play Store could never even open. Even if it does, you could miss out on a number of app functionalities. Huawei, on the other hand, brings the Huawei Mobile Services (HMS) as an alternative to Google Play Services, which according to the company, has been under tests prior to the ban. Following the ban, Huawei became obliged to bring in a much stronger and competitive HMS.
Coming to an app like WhatsApp, still absent in the AppGallery, it actually doesn’t require the Google Play Services to serve the functions, particularly the primary ones. Hence, one could sideload the app on Huawei and Honor smartphones and face no issues on the core functionalities. But did you know it? Huawei has been in trouble owing to the users that lack such knowledge.
While the company is certain about its own ecosystem for the future, it requires a focus on the present and a constant vision of the days to come. Obviously, developers could host popular apps on the AppGallery themselves. However, Huawei can’t afford to wait for an app to appear in the platform that leads us to the following alternatives to get the apps installed from other sources:
- Phone Clone: The Phone Clone app from Huawei backs up data such as APK files for most installed apps from an old device and transfers them to a new device. However, you are limited to transferring existing apps from one device to another.
- Amazon AppStore: The Amazon AppStore has a collection of useful apps but falls short on a number of popular ones as opposed to the PlayStore.
- Third-party APK sites: A number of third-party APK sites including APKMirror, Aptoide, APKMonk, and APKPure rehost Android APKs. Keep in mind that the users and not the developers upload such apps. Similarly, APKMirror takes a manual approach while approving each submission thereby match app signature against the same app uploaded to the Google Play. This results in higher quality submissions, unlike other stores.
- F-Droid: F-Droid hosts open-source Android apps, thus evidently falls short on apps considering a very few developers that actually want their apps to go open-source.
The official Huawei website itself notes down the four different ways to sideload apps, one of which is the Petal Search. The company is boasting the Petal Search to be a “new search tool” for users to “find everything they need.” Similarly, the tagline reads “Your Gateway to a Million Apps”.
Huawei Petal Search
So far, you have already known the fact that the Huawei and Honor consumers need to sideload a number of apps in their smartphones. A majority of the applications do work well even without the Google Play Services. The apps that don’t are reportedly less in number.
However, some apps lose a number of their functionalities. For e.g. Discord leverages Google Firebase Cloud Messaging for push notifications hence misses out on the functionality. Also, you won’t be able to restore WhatsApp messages utilizing Google Drive and open the KeePass database, which is stored in the KeePass2Android Drive. On the other hand, Google Nest that has been complaining about the absence works well without the Google Play Services.
The process of searching an app and downloading it is clearly bothersome. So, steps in the Petal Search.
Basically, the Petal Search is an app distribution aggregator or a search engine. All you need to do is tap on the home screen, open the search, and search the apps online. It’ll even show you local news if you tap on the “For You” tab in the app. Also, if you can’t get along with the name, the “Hua” in Huawei roughly translates into Petal, hence Petal Search.
Huawei will be shipping the Petal Search in the recent EMUI update with the future update bringing in the app to the users that live in Western European nations — the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland, Portugal, and Switzerland.
Much recently, you can see the app in the Huawei P40 series smartphones that gets the EMUI 10.1.0.131 update. Huawei will be shipping the app pre-installed across the Huawei P40 series.
Moreover, users can install the Petal Search from the AppGallery themselves. The non-Huawei/Honor users can also manually sideload Huawei Mobile Service to install the search.
Setup, Privacy, and Permissions
Huawei quotes the data collection in order to “provide search suggestions, advertisements, and personalized news as well as for the purposes of product information and analysis.” Also, the search data is shared with “news partners” including the two European search engines. Huawei does assure the search query data never to be linked and associated with individuals. An easy demonstration will be to log out and sign back into the Huawei ID to see the search history that will disappear following each logout.
Thankfully, the Petal Search doesn’t tell users to sign in into a Huawei account just for the app search. However, that way, users can’t sync their favorite pages. Meanwhile, Petal Search will ask for different permissions, a number of which are actually optional. A single “storage” permission will get users going, hence can save their downloads in their devices’ storage. The search creates a new folder in the default Pictures, Music, Movies, and Download folders under “PetalSearch” to keep all the downloads.
Furthermore, Petal Search is stated to use permissions to surface relevant entries from the calendar, email, messages, notepad, and so on during a search, though don’t contribute to the main app functionalities. Users can disable them via app settings.
Our take on it
The Huawei introduction of the Petal Search is an intuitive “one-stop-shop” app distribution aggregator that eliminates the need to search for apps in numerous sources and sideloading them into the devices.
The first Petal Search version is reported to have several issues including the inability to check for updates to the installed applications, lack of app failure reports and post-feedbacks, bugs with text rendering issues for certain app descriptions, malformed app downloads from APKMonk, and inaccurate app icon/ratings for few listings, all of which are now fixed.
Though Huawei looks forward to a bright future for its own software ecosystem and working on it, it still has to find a way around to facilitate consumers, a majority of which won’t even bother getting into an unpopular ecosystem with an app store that misses out on a number of popular applications like WhatsApp. And only time will tell, how well the Petal Search will turn out to be.