What will happen if Chinese brands drop the Google Play Store for good?

What will happen if Chinese brands drop the Google Play Store for good?
Earlier this month, news broke out that the largest Chinese smartphone manufacturers have created an alliance that seeks to create a new platform to serve as an alternative to Google’s Play Store.

It’s not hard to imagine that Huawei was the company that invited Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo to the table with concerning tales about how they can be the next victims of the US government.

Regardless of exactly what transpired, the result is clear: some of the biggest smartphone manufacturers want to separate from Google. And that’s a big thing. But what might it lead to? Let’s explore.

Moving against Google slowly but surely

The separation is going to begin later this year if everything goes as planned. The Global Developer Service Alliance (as the new organization is called) will introduce its app market only in some countries at first.

But for the purposes of this article, we’ll extrapolate a bit and imagine that this is only phase one of the transition, and eventually, all new smartphones from these manufacturers will come without Play Store. Not a wild assumption, right? As people upgrade to new phones from these brands, users will slowly start to trickle away between Google’s fingers.

Let’s look at some data from 2019 to get an idea of how large these brands are when combined and what numbers are we talking about here.

Numbers are estimates, sources: IDC, Counterpoint, Canalys

In 2019, Huawei, Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo sold around 595 million smartphones. That’s twice as many as Samsung’s 296 million and 254 million more than what the rest of the Android phone makers sold during the same period (341 million).

But what we’re concerned with are Play Store users, which is why China sales should be subtracted. That leaves us with about 285 million for the four companies, still a good chunk of users.

It’s impossible to say exactly how sales will shift once these manufacturers drop the Play Store. On one hand, many of their users will switch to other brands that still come with Google’s app store. However, the reason these companies have such a large market share in the first place is that they offer great value for money. And without Google’s licensing fees, their prepositions might become even more lucrative, keeping users that aren’t deep into the Google ecosystem on their side.

How will the user drop affect Google?

Let’s assume that roughly half of those 285 million users ditch Google. The Play Store would lose “only” 140 million users in the first year alone. That’s still a big hit on the ecosystem.

While Google Search might still be available on phones using the GDSA app store, Google will lose not only the Play Store revenue but also important user data streams, such as the one used for Google Maps’ real-time traffic information. This information is crowdsourced from Android users who have Google’s services running on their phones.

Additionally, this separation into two camps could signal users that the whole Android ecosystem is unstable and that they should jump ships altogether and get an iPhone instead. With a new budget iPhone coming out soon, Apple will be ready to welcome them with open arms.

More competition should benefit users and developers alike

Outside of China, Google has a firm grip on app distribution to Android phones. This monopoly allows it to ask for a generous 30% cut from Play Store sales, something developers have been unhappy about for a while.

With a second app market, however, things might change drastically. If the Play Store alternative entices developers with a smaller cut, that could force Google to do the same. And more money left for the software companies should lead to more money spent on developing the apps.

But there could be another effect. To keep users on its side of Android, Google can pour even more resources into the platform and develop more unique features and services that smaller companies simply don’t have the resources to make. Things like Stadia, which hopefully won’t end up on Google’s project graveyard.

Either way, when companies have to fight to keep their users that usually benefits said users.

Will Samsung carry the torch or bury it in the ground?

Earlier, we briefly mentioned Samsung. Although it’s a side player, the company will have an important role in all of this. If the four Chinese manufacturers abandon the Play Store and Google Services, Samsung will have by far the largest share of Android users relying on the Play Store.

This will put it in a very peculiar position. With Sony, LG and Google’s own Pixel phones holding a negligible part of the market, Samsung will essentially hold the future of the Play Store in its hands.

Samsung can use its new position as leverage and create a deeper and better partnership with Google, which of course will cater more closely to Samsung’s needs when it comes to mobile software.

But let's not forget that Samsung phones already come with another app market besides the Play Store: the Galaxy Store. If Samsung feels like the climate is right, it could make its own store the only one, dealing another serious blow to Google in the process.

Could this be the end of Android as we know it?

For the time being, everything above is largely speculation, and the possibility of Huawei and Co’s enterprise failing spectacularly is somewhat high. But if it doesn’t and the situation escalates roughly in the direction described above, it will cause a tectonic shift in the Android world.

With the mobile world split into 3, potentially 4 large groups (iOS, Android with either Play Store, Galaxy Store or  the GDSA store), who knows where things will go next. One thing is certain, however: interesting times are ahead of us. All we have to do is wait and see how the pieces move on the chessboard.


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