The tech story that made the biggest impact on me yesterday was Sam Byford’s “Living a Google-free life with a Huawei phone.” In the run up to the launch of Huawei’s new flagship P40 line, he got himself a Mate 30 Pro and used it to see what Android is like sans Google. This is, of course, something untold millions of people in China do every day, but outside China Huawei falls in a weird zone where it doesn’t have its local China services nor Google services.
The result, as Sam writes, is weird. But what struck me the most is how essential Google Mobile Services (GMS) are to the functioning of every modern Android phone outside of China. You might already expect that not having Gmail, Chrome, and the Play Store would be annoying — but the fact that so many non-Google apps don’t work was a bit of a shock.
GMS and Google Play Services have slowly grown to become essential parts of how an Android phone works. They’re how the web engine gets updated, they’re increasingly how the operating system itself gets updated (via Project Mainline), and they protect against malware — even for apps you don’t load from the official Google Play Store.
They also offer lots of services to developers, and that’s the part that’s easy to forget. Google’s services offer push notifications, location, casting, ad support, and much more. Huawei has been building out its own services and store to deal with life away from Google, but the situation right now is that the Mate 30 Pro doesn’t even ship with a viable maps app. Android may be open source, but an Android phone doesn’t really operate without Google — at least outside of China.
None of this is especially shocking or even nefarious, it’s just something that isn’t in your face every day. Other operating systems like Windows and iOS are equally tied up with the company that makes them, which is a point so obvious that pointing it out in the first place seems silly. But with Android, it’s worth remembering.
We’ll have lots of coverage of Huawei’s new P40 series today, so look forward to that. For what it’s worth, Huawei has said it would come back to the US if it could, but that seems unlikely in the near future. Also, thanks to everybody who emailed me today with their thoughts on the iPad — I’ll try to reply personally to everybody but it’ll take a bit.
Product launches and updates
┏ Google Podcasts rolls out new design, launches on iOS. Looks like a huge upgrade, and availability on iOS makes it more appealing to people who need to be on multiple platforms. But the cross-platform king of podcast apps remains Pocket Casts, in my opinion. It’s also the rare app that is excellent on every platform I use it on, from CarPlay to the web to Android to smart displays. Plus, it’s not owned and operated by a giant tech company! (Though to be fair NPR ain’t small.)
┏ Royole claims the FlexPai 2 fixes the problems of its rough first foldable. I love that Royole is just going for it with another foldable phone and promising this one won’t be a cringey mess like the first. I do wonder why the display is branded “Cicada Wing,” though. Apparently they’re good at repelling water and self-cleaning? The wings I mean, not this screen.
┏ Samsung’s new Galaxy Tab A offers LTE connectivity. I’m not sure I’d recommend this over an iPad to anybody, but it’s inexpensive and gives you an LTE option if you want that.
┏ Dell now lets you control iPhones from its PCs. It’s legit amazing that Dell does this and the Mac does not. I’m sure people will turn their nose up at it, but using the Your Phone app on Windows 10 has me convinced that it’s a good idea. There are still going to be bugs and such, but I hope there’s continued investment in this kind of software from multiple companies.
More from The Verge
┏ Apple says customers must wait to pick up repairs locked inside its retail stores. Here’s an idea that sounds easy and is easy to recommend because I’m not Apple: why not offer loaner devices to these people? I am guessing Apple could afford to! Like I said, probably harder and more expensive than I would guess, but it would suck to be stuck in a lurch without a computer. Maybe I just feel this particularly pointedly because the N key on my MacBook Pro is about to die.
Stuff to do
I, like seemingly everybody else I follow, am playing a bunch of Animal Crossing. If you are too, we have a lovely set of stories that are both useful and entertaining. If you want a full-on guide, Polygon’s is quite comprehensive. I’m also playing Shadow of the Tomb Raider and it’s kind of an overloaded, overwhelming collect-the-map game.
If you’re looking for something to play, my advice is to check out our best games of 2020. Our team is keeping this page updated throughout the year. Bookmark it!
┏ How to watch movies with friends online. Aliya Chaudhry goes over all the major options. There are a bunch, and some of them work with multiple video services.
┏ Fox will broadcast NASCAR’s substitute sim racing ‘season’ on television. Sean O’Kane is going to get me into NASCAR, isn’t he? I have gone to one NASCAR race and I deeply loved it, but there are only so many things I can afford to keep track of. But this looks joyful and fun.
One reason it was possible for the motorsports world to quickly flip this switch to sim racing is that there’s been a thriving community competing on these platforms for years. Sim racing has grown so prevalent that many pro drivers are already deeply familiar with the likes of iRacing. Most have sim racing rigs — a seat, steering wheel, pedals, and giant, often wraparound monitors — set up in their homes, or at the very least, at their team’s headquarters.