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What is HMS? All you need to know about HUAWEI's new mobile ecosystem
By now, you probably know all about HUAWEI’s long-standing US trade ban. The Chinese company cannot conduct business with most US firms, including Google, except on the basis of a restrictive temporary license that has been renewed several times since May 2019.
Given the circumstances, Huawei hasn’t been able to launch new phones with Google Mobile Services (GMS). Why does it matter? Well, GMS is the heart and soul of most Android smartphones in the market. It comprises dozens of Google apps, APIs, and cloud-based services, such as Google Maps, Google Drive, YouTube, Google Photos, Google Play Store, Google Chrome, and more.
Without GMS, HUAWEI phones not only miss out on these essential Google products, but they also lack a number of other apps that are available on the Play Store. Thankfully, HUAWEI added a bunch of apps like Twitter and Instagram to its App Gallery (more on that later) in 2022. That said, many other smaller apps depend on the infrastructure provided by Google through GMS. HUAWEI’s Play Store alternative may not support such apps.
So with all the restrictions imposed on it, HUAWEI’s only solution to combat the lack of GMS was to create its own competing platform — HUAWEI Mobile Services or HMS.
HMS made its global debut with the launch of the HONOR 9X Pro, HUAWEI Mate XS, and the HONOR View 30 Pro. It is now supported by all HUAWEI phones and tablets, including older HUAWEI models with GMS launched before the ban. Many HONOR phones also support HMS, but the former HUAWEI sub-brand is once again gaining GMS on its newer phones like the HONOR Magic 4 Pro.
So what exactly does HMS contain and what does it mean for your next HUAWEI smartphone purchase? Let’s dive in deeper to answer some of those questions.
What are HUAWEI Mobile Services (HMS)?
HMS is a platform from HUAWEI that replaces popular Google apps and services like Gmail, Maps, cloud storage, etc, on your HUAWEI and HONOR phones. HMS also provides third-party developers with tools and services for creating their own apps. With HMS, HUAWEI aims to do for its own ecosystem everything that Google does for users and developers in the mainstream Android ecosystem.
HMS has a user-facing component (App Gallery and other first-party HUAWEI apps and services) and a developer-facing component, called HMS Core. HMS Core is made up of various APIs, SDKs, and services that developers can use to create and improve apps.
HUAWEI Mobile Services has been around for years, but HUAWEI relaunched and expanded the platform following the US ban that deprived it of Google Mobile Services.
Also read: The best HUAWEI phones you can buy right now
HMS is available on the global variants of the HUAWEI Mate 40, HUAWEI P40, HUAWEI P50, Mate 30 Pro, Mate XS, HONOR 9X Pro, View 30 Pro, and more, complete with the pre-installed App Gallery. These are phones that HUAWEI launched post-US ban. HMS is also available, alongside GMS, on many other HUAWEI models launched before the ban.
HUAWEI claims that HMS already has more than 650 million global monthly active users and that its App Gallery has crossed 580 million monthly active users with over 220,000 HMS apps. We expect all future HUAWEI phones to run HMS. Even if HUAWEI somehow gets access to GMS again in the future, it’s very likely that the company will continue to develop and promote HMS on its devices.
What does HMS contain?
On the user-facing side, HMS offers a bunch of services that aim to replace GMS. The most significant of them is the HUAWEI App Gallery, an alternative to the all-important Google Play Store. Below is a list of all the core services HMS has to offer. For the sake of clarity, we’ve created a separate section for the HUAWEI App Gallery at the end of this list.
The first and foremost requirement of using HMS is a HUAWEI ID. Just like Apple ID or a Google account, HUAWEI ID lets you customize your HUAWEI devices. Some of your personal data, including contacts, messages, Wi-Fi passwords, and such are synced to your HUAWEI ID.
HUAWEI Mobile Cloud
HUAWEI Mobile Cloud works in sync with HUAWEI ID to give you access to all your device data in one place. It’s essentially where things like photos, videos, contacts, calendars, notes, and more to are stored for backup. You get up to 5GB of cloud storage for free, after which you can purchase additional storage up to 2TB. If you want to access your HUAWEI cloud data on a PC, you can head to cloud.huawei.com to see your entire backup.
The global variants of the HONOR 9X Pro, HUAWEI Mate XS, and HONOR View 30 Pro are all equipped with the HUAWEI Assistant, a virtual assistant that replaces the core functions of the Google Assistant. It facilitates information search and apps accessibility. It also has a SmartCare feature that provides access to contextual cards for stocks and sports, covering 150 sporting events and more than 150 stock markets. All upcoming devices running EMUI 10 or above will come equipped with the digital assistant.
HUAWEI Themes is HMS’ theming app. It basically lets you personalize your phone with various themes, fonts, icons, lock screens, and wallpapers.
This is the company’s own music streaming service. HUAWEI hasn’t really said much about it till now and it might not be available on all devices globally right now. However, an official page for the service tells us that it’ll house music from popular artists just like any other music streaming app. It’ll also divide music according to different genres, moods, regions, and more. A party mode feature will let users play the same track simultaneously on different mobile phones for a shared listening experience.
The HUAWEI Video streaming service is available on HUAWEI and HONOR devices running EMUI version 5 or higher. It currently only works for those who have HUAWEI IDs registered in Italy or Spain. The service features European and Spanish TV series, short videos, sports videos, documentaries, and movies.
The HUAWEI Browser is what the name says: a tool to surf the internet. The browser also comes with an integrated newsfeed and features a Dark Mode for ease of use.
The GameCenter is HUAWEI’s official game service and distribution platform. It lets users install new games. Think of it like an app store dedicated to gaming. You’ll get curated recommendations, exclusive offers, rewards, and much more.
HUAWEI Books features a range of eBooks, audiobooks, and magazines from across the world. You can buy these books and also use the service to read them. The app also features a night mode for reading in dark environments. It also lets you synchronize and save your books and note abstracts on the cloud so that your reading records will never be lost.
HUAWEI App Gallery
The HUAWEI App Gallery replaces the Google Play Store on HUAWEI and HONOR phones. HUAWEI has invested upwards of a billion dollars to create apps for the App Gallery. We’re not sure how HUAWEI came up with these numbers and if they’re actually legit. No third-party research organization has verified HUAWEI’s claims so far, so it’s best to take those numbers with a grain of salt.
The App Gallery has been around for a while. It’s also recently added a number of popular apps like Twitter and Instagram. However, its nowhere nearly as big as the Google Play Store or even Apple’s App Store.
Currently, it segments applications across 18 different categories, including news, social media, entertainment, and more.
So just which popular apps can you find on the App Gallery?
Well, for now, you can find big names like Snapchat, WhatsApp, TikTok, Deezer, Amazon, Amazon Prime Videos, Booking.com, The Financial Times, BBC News, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and more on the HUAWEI App Gallery. It also has some popular mobile games onboard.
Obviously, there’s no YouTube, Gmail, Google Photos, Google Maps, Drive, etc. These apps would probably not be available on HUAWEI phones until the US ban remains is lifted, provided Google would even want to publish them on HUAWEI’s competing app store.
On the upside, HUAWEI says that if users can’t find an app on the App Gallery, they can submit the desired app name to a Wishlist. Once that app becomes available, the user who submitted it via Wishlist will get notified.
The HUAWEI App Gallery also offers an app called Petal Search. It is a one-stop-shop for search, news, images, and app. If you have a HUAWEI P40-series device, Petal Search will be pre-installed. If you’re on an older device like our Mate 30 Pro, you will have to install the app via HUAWEI App Gallery.
A noteworthy feature of HUAWEI’s App Gallery is something called Quick Apps. Much like Google’s Instant Apps, these are installation-free apps that consume very little memory but work like native apps. HUAWEI says users can have more than 2,000 Quick Apps in place of 20 native apps with just 1GB of space. We don’t really know which apps are available in the form of Quick Apps, but the company claims that there are more than 1,700 of them released so far and more are on the way.
Besides developing its own App Gallery, HUAWEI is also reportedly working with Xiaomi, vivo, and OPPO to develop a unified app uploading service that would make it easier for developers to distribute their apps to users of the four OEMs. However, we haven’t heard anything about this service since 2020, so it might just be on the back burner or canceled.
Meanwhile, if you’d like to try out the HUAWEI App Gallery, you can download it from here.
HMS Core: The behind-the-scenes action
When it comes to HMS, a lot is going on with the developer side of things.
HMS includes a set of developer services called HMS Core. These include tools for location tracking, sign-ins, in-app purchases, ads, face detection, text recognition, and more. Developers can use these core services as well as other APIs and SDKs provided by HUAWEI to create applications for HMS.
HUAWEI built its own version of important APIs that developers would otherwise rely on GMS for. Without these APIs, a number of Android apps would simply not work on HUAWEI phones. This is why some Google apps can be sideloaded on HUAWEI phones but don’t actually work.
Back in December 2019, HUAWEI promised developers that if their app exists on the Play Store, it will take them less than 10 minutes to port it over to HMS. The company has hundreds of APIs available across a number of dev kits that’ll help developers create apps for HMS.
Besides providing developers with the necessary tools, HUAWEI also incentivizes them with cash to port their apps to HMS. The company is reportedly working with developers in every market to ensure that top Android apps are preinstalled on HUAWEI phones.
If you are switching to a HUAWEI phone, HMS will be a learning curve for you, especially if you have become comfortable with Google’s products over the years. Unfortunately, HUAWEI can’t really do much under the circumstances except for expanding its own ecosystem. Hopefully, it’ll become even stronger over the next few years, or in a perfect world, their troubles will end, and GMS will once again be allowed on HUAWEI phones.
We will update this article as and when HUAWEI adds more features and services to HMS.