A workaround that enabled Huawei's Mate 30 devices to install Google's Play Store and other apps has been shut down. LZ Play, an app that promised to allow users to run the apps they know and love, has been taken down after a researcher found it harnessed secret Huawei APIs. Subsequently, Google removed the phone from its SafetyNet system, essentially a list of trusted devices that could access Google services.
As part of a protracted war against Huawei, the US placed the company on an entity list, banning any US business or person from working with the Chinese manufacturer. That meant that, while it could use the open source version of Android, which is common in China, Huawei couldn't use Google's services. And in the west, the twin worlds of Android and Google Play are seen as indivisible.
The two devices that Huawei has released since the ban, the Honor 9X in China and the Mate 30 series, both ship without Google Play. In its place, Huawei is hoping that its own store, the App Gallery, will mature enough in the west to satisfy people's thirst for the apps they know and love. That's not very likely, however, since companies like Facebook have already backed off supporting Huawei devices in future.
Huawei locked the boot loader on the Mate 30, but a nod-and-wink workaround existed for both the Mate 30 and the 9X in the form of LZ Play. If you were prepared to risk your device's security (LZ Play required administrator rights despite its sketchy provenance) you could download the app and use it to access Google Play. From there, you could then download the apps you crave, and demand, from your Android phone.
Using apps to route around the Google ban is not uncommon, with apps like GO Google Installer being used on western phones brought to China. In this case, however, GO Google Installer didn't work for the Mate 30 series.
On October 1st, developer John Wu wrote about how LZ Play uses undocumented Huawei APIs inside the OS that are used for device security to trick Google servers. Wu suggested that Huawei knew about the secret tools LZ Play used, and either encouraged, or turned a blind eye to its use. After all, it meant that enthusiasts had a way of getting Google Play onto devices that otherwise would be blocked.
Shortly after publication of Wu's piece, and the LZ Play website was taken offline, as well as raised hackles in the security community. Android Police speculates that either the developer got cold feet, the hosting provider did, or Huawei itself -- if you believe that Huawei was behind the app itself. F
A Huawei spokesperson told Engadget that "Huawei has had no involvement with LZ Play. "
On its side, Google has also moved to block the Mate 30 from being able to use any number of tricks to access Google Play. The company's SafetyNet system is designed to check if a phone was secure (and had not been rooted or otherwise hacked) enough to run Google's apps. As Android Central's Alex Dobie found, the Mate 30 Pro was certified by SafetyNet last week, but its approval has since been pulled.
Soooo uhh this is new.— Alex Dobie (@alexdobie) October 1, 2019
Since today's developments, Mate 30 Pro now fails SafetyNet. Last week it passed.
What the what pic.twitter.com/fPeaWUHD2v
Ultimately, the Mate 30 remains a great phone that you shouldn't buy unless Huawei's geopolitical fortunes improve. But it's likely that Google, fearing reprisals for breaking sanctions, will work to ensure that any future workarounds are similarly shut down.