EMUI’s overzealous background app management comes back to bite as VLC blacklists Huawei devices

I have reviewed my fair share of Huawei smartphones over the years. As a user, I have used pretty much every Huawei flagship smartphone since 2012. Well, I am yet to lay my hands on the P20 but that should change soon. What’s been the constant all along? Emotion UI aka EMUI, the custom overlay found on Huawei devices since 2012.

EMUI did get a huge update back in 2016 but a lot of what I personally never liked about it (evident if you read smartphone reviews I penned at that time and before) stuck around. There was a fresh coat of paint, sure, and several awesome new features like App Twin but the software’s overzealous background activity restrictions stayed in place.

While Huawei lets users whitelist apps, for the longest time (and even to date), that hardly ever works. App processes get killed all the time. It is an extreme sport trying to play local music files using my favourite music players like Poweramp. I even stopped trying. Whenever I am using any of the Huawei devices in my possession, I usually just fire up the Huawei music player app. I have to admit, the Huawei music app is really good, up there with my experience on Samsung Galaxy smartphones back when Samsung used to pre-install its own music app.

However, just like the nonsense that was OPPO not letting users choose a third-party launcher of choice, I still find it unacceptable that Huawei wouldn’t see something like this as being a bad user experience. Sure, users benefit from a lot of the steps taken to reign in on apps in various ways, key being performance and battery life but…

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This is just a bad user experience, to be honest. While there are savvy users like yours truly and many that flock to this site and other like-minded forums, the average user will blame the developers of whatever media app that keeps crashing since everything else appears to work fine and they get an even better experience when they use Huawei’s own apps. This adds unnecessary pressure to developers who are already always overwhelmed trying to bring us more good features, fixing already-existing bugs and even preparing their apps for newer versions of Android, like the upcoming Android P. Double trouble if yours is a free app. Like VideoLAN’s VLC, one of the most popular media player apps on the planet.

In an update on Twitter, VideoLAN, the team behind VLC, announced yesterday that it is locking Huawei devices from accessing the VLC app on the Google Play Store. Reason? “Their ridiculous policy of killing all background apps (except their own)…”

Drawing from my experience with Huawei, I really can’t fault them.

It is important to note that according to VideoLAN, it is not every Huawei device that is blacklisted. Only recent Huawei devices are affected by the Play Store blacklisting.

This is such a bummer, though. VLC is easily the best video player on the Play Store at the moment. Sure, I rate my personal favourite, MX Player (I even paid for the pro version) higher than VLC but the former has new owners in India who will soon turn it into something we no longer recognize, like or approve of. So long, MX Player.

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I have only used low-cost 2018 smartphones from Huawei whose limited resources have had me being extremely considerate with the kind of apps I install but there’s a high probability that EMUI 8.1, which runs on the P20 family, has doubled down on background app activity in a bid to deliver better performance and keep devices running for longer.

So, where does this leave new users (because they’re the ones who won’t find VLC on the Play Store, old users won’t be affected) of the Huawei devices that have been blacklisted? Easy, it’s Android we are talking about here. An app’s unavailability from the Play Store doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world, it just misses out on the massive traffic and exposure provided by the Play Store. Users can still get the VLC app from VideoLAN’s website.

Here’s to hoping that Huawei goes slow on the background process limitation soon.

Have something that you believe I need to have a look at? Hit me up: echenze [at] androidkenya.com