Saturday, September 05, 2015

Speculation grows over Google’s return to China

As tvnewswatch tweeted back in July [See here, here & here] Google may be planning a returning to China. New reports in several publications appear to indicate that the tech giant is negotiating with authorities there to set up a China based app store.

Reports first emerged in late July that Google had supposedly registered several domain names in China prompting some Chinese media to speculate the company was making a return.

One article pointed to the fact that several sites had been registered by Google including  registered (Google application market China), (Google application market Chinese version), googlechinaaccount .com (Google China account), (Google Chinese version), amongst others [Sina / China News].

Some reports in the Chinese media also alluded to the possibility that Google was also actively communicating and negotiating with domestic mobile phone manufacturersin order to facilitate the pre-installation of Google Play Store into devices.

None of them are live and simply show the page as unavailable. Nonetheless, an article published this week on The Information website suggested that Google's return to China could happen as early as October

Meanwhile the Wall Street Journal claimed that Google was already "in talks with Chinese government officials and handset makers about launching a new Android app store".

Despite the upbeat reports, any return will depend upon whether the Chinese authorities grant Google the appropriate licences.

Google ceased almost all its operations in mainland China in 2010 following cyberattacks against Gmail users and disagreements with the government over censorship of search results.

Should Google be allowed to set up shop in China, it could prove lucrative. Whilst Android is widely used there Google currently makes little if any money from the software it designed. Google Play is unavailable in China and other app stores currently compete with each other, none of which provide any revenue for Google.

Of course any app store Google is allowed to set up will undoubtedly be shaped for the Chinese market [The Verge]. Apps deemed unsuitable would be stripped from the store and it is likely that others would simply not be offered since they would not work anyway due to Internet censorship.

For example many of Google's own services are virtually unusable in China including GMail, Drive, YouTube, Picasa, Maps, and even its search engine. Other apps that would prove pointless to offer to a Chinese audience would be the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, Dropbox and Instagram as well as many news media apps including Bloomberg, the Guardian, Al Jazeera and the New York Times, all of which are currently blocked in China.

While the inability to access such sites is a major frustration for expats, for many Chinese Internet and smartphone users such blocks are of little consequence.

Many have become accustomed to the heavy handed censorship and have resigned themselves to using homegrown alternatives. Baidu is the main search engine of choice while WeChat [known as Weixin in China] is the most popular social media tool.

Even if Google enters the market it may be some while before it is able to stake a place in what is an extremely competitive market. While iTunes delivers apps and other content for Apple devices around the globe, due to Android's open source operating system there is the potential of any number of app stores setting up.

In the West however Google only has to compete with Amazon's app store. In China it is very different. After Google departed in 2010 hundreds of third-party Android app stores sprung up. That market has dwindled, but Google will have its work cut out as it competes with at least six major stores including 360 Market, Baidu-owned 91 Wireless, UCWeb, Tencent's MyApp, Xiaomi's Mi Market, and Wandoujia [The Next Web].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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