[Updated] Xiaomi says Google is forcing OEMs to mention Google apps support on retail boxes

[Updated] Xiaomi says Google is forcing OEMs to mention Google apps support on retail boxes

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Update 2 (4/7/2020 @ 2:10 PM EST): We have investigated this matter more and have come up with a partial explanation for what’s going on. Read below for the update.

Update 1 (4/7/2020 @ 10:50 AM EST): Xiaomi has issued a statement regarding this matter. Scroll down to the bottom for the update.

Last week, Chinese consumer electronics brand Xiaomi launched the Mi 10 and Mi 10 Pro in parts of Europe. Like the majority of Android smartphones sold in Europe, the Mi 10 and Mi 10 Pro come with Google apps pre-installed. Having Google apps support is something that is usually not mentioned in product marketing since nearly every Android smartphone sold outside of China will have this feature. Curiously, though, the retail boxes for the European Mi 10 series include a statement advertising Google apps support, as shown in the featured image embedded above. Many Chinese netizens and bloggers assumed that Xiaomi included this statement as a jab at Huawei for the latter’s inability to ship Google apps, but Xiaomi has clarified that Google required them to include this statement. Furthermore, Xiaomi says that Google is actually requiring that all OEMs that ship devices with Google apps include this statement.

The retail boxes of the Xiaomi Mi 10 and Mi 10 Pro have a statement on the side that reads “with easy access to the Google apps you use most.”

To understand why this decision sparked controversy in China, you need to know about the situation with Huawei. In the middle of 2019, the U.S. Commerce Department placed Huawei and its many subsidiaries on the “Entity List,” citing national security concerns. As a result, Google has been unable to sign new license agreements with Huawei, preventing the latter from shipping new smartphones and tablets with Google Mobile Services (GMS). Because this restriction has yet to be lifted, Huawei was forced to launch its flagship P40 series in Europe without GMS. This situation has angered many in China who believe the U.S. is unfairly targeting Huawei to gain leverage in trade negotiations. Huawei smartphone sales surged in China in the months following the trade ban due to many factors including strong investments in alternative services (Huawei AppGallery, Huawei Mobile Services, etc.) and even “patriotic consumer purchases.” It is because of the sentiment that Huawei is being unfairly punished that some Chinese media and consumers viewed the statement on the Mi 10’s retail box as an attack on Huawei.

Not wanting to lose favor with its Chinese fans, Xiaomi quickly issued a statement addressing the issue from one of its Weibo accounts. The statement can roughly be translated as follows:

We have noticed that there is a discussion on the latest copy of the packaging of Xiaomi mobile phone overseas market. In order to avoid misunderstanding, the explanation is as follows:

  1. This copy is from the promotion requirements of the partners in the latest cooperation agreement, similar to the “power by android” displayed on the Android phone and the “intel inside” on the computer.

  2. Because the previous version of the agreement between Xiaomi and its partners has expired, Xiaomi becomes the first batch of contracted manufacturers of the new version of the cooperation agreement, and is also the first manufacturer to release new products after it becomes effective.

  3. We hope that global mobile phone manufacturers can cooperate smoothly with all partners to create a richer ecosystem.

When Xiaomi is talking about “promotion requirements” for partners in the latest “cooperation agreement,” they are likely referring to a new provision in the Mobile Application Distribution Agreement, or MADA, that they had to sign in order to be able to distribute Google Mobile Services. This new provision is likely what made Xiaomi put the “with easy access to the Google apps you use most” statement on the Mi 10 retail box. Xiaomi does not specify whether this requirement will be for all devices they sell internationally or only for devices they sell in Europe, but they liken this requirement to the “Powered by Android” boot up co-branding that Google now requires for devices. According to a source who has access to the latest GMS Requirements document for the European Economic Area (EEA), there is no wording related to the new requirement that Xiaomi alludes to.

Section 1.3 of Google’s “GMS Requirements v7.0” document outlines the “Powered by Android” Boot up screen requirements. OEMs that distribute GMS must abide by this requirement.

Thus, when Xiaomi states that the “previous version” of its “agreement” has expired, they likely mean that their MADA expired, forcing them to sign a new one with Google in order to continue to be able to distribute GMS on new devices. This new MADA likely contains the new marketing provision that forces OEMs to mention Google apps support on the box. Xiaomi suggests that their agreement has only recently expired and that they’re the first OEM to release a new product after the new terms came into effect, which is why the new Mi 10 seems to be the first device that contains this statement on the retail box. A Senior Engineer of “New Media” at Xiaomi states on his personal Weibo account that new “overseas” flagships from Motorola and other companies will also contain this statement. Other Xiaomi employees have chimed in on this new requirement, with some viewing this as a hypocritical attempt by Google to mock Huawei while simultaneously pitching the U.S. Government for a license to do business with Huawei.

Some Chinese media have reported on an alleged comment by a Vivo Product Manager that seems to confirm the new requirement, but we are unable to find this particular comment on Weibo. Regardless, Xiaomi’s statement makes it clear that Google has added some kind of provision that requires its OEM partners to market GMS support on the retail boxes of new smartphones. We don’t know when this provision went into effect or if the requirement will affect all devices sold outside of China, though. We reached out to both Google and Xiaomi for statements regarding this matter and will update this article if we hear back.

Featured image credit: TK Bay for XDA-Developers

Update 1: Xiaomi’s Response

A spokesperson for Xiaomi reached out to us to share the following statement:

“This line on our Mi 10 series packaging boxes is consistent with Google’s long-standing branding guidelines, intended to help ensure consumers are properly informed of the software on the device.”

Xiaomi did not confirm that the line on the Mi 10 retail box came from a new licensing requirement from Google, but they did confirm that the statement they originally issued on Weibo is legitimate.

Update 2: What may have happened

We have learned that this line on the Mi 10 series retail boxes is consistent with Google’s branding guidelines for Android. We have also learned that this particular provision in the branding guidelines has been around for a while now, and furthermore, that there have not been any recent changes in its wording. The intent behind this line is to inform consumers that the particular device offers more Google apps than are typically pre-installed. Google requires all OEMs to install a certain subset of its applications; this suite of applications is called “GMS Core” and includes apps like the Google App, Google Chrome, Google Play Store, Gmail, Google Maps, and YouTube. OEMs can choose to install other Google applications, but they are not required to do so. If they choose to do so, though, then they are recommended to add “with easy access to the Google apps you use most” to the packaging. According to TK Bay, the Xiaomi Mi 10 comes pre-installed with Google Pay, Google Podcasts, Google One, Google Contacts, Google Calendar, Google Lens, Google Assistant, and Google News. These applications are not part of GMS Core and are not pre-installed on most other GMS devices, such as the Samsung Galaxy S20.

This new revelation lines up with Xiaomi’s latest statement. However, it contradicts what Xiaomi publicly wrote on Weibo last week. We do not know why Xiaomi told its Chinese audience that Google required them to include this branding as part of a new license agreement. We reached out to Xiaomi for further details.