Google and China have not been getting along for a while now, but Google's new CEO Sundar Pichai wants to kiss and make up, sort of. Google Play might be the key that gets the search engine giant back into the largest internet market in the world, but it isn't going to be easy.
Via By Jeremy Wagstaff and Paul Carsten of Reuters in their article "Google won't have easy ride back into China," a lot if not almost all Google products have been rendered nearly inaccessible since Google decided to cease self-censorship of search results in China five years ago. (Google was also prompted to defy Beijing due to multiple China-originated hacking attempts on Gmail and other services.)
But, according to Wagstaff and Carsten, "Google Inc CEO Sundar Pichai has made no secret that he wants to get back into China," and the plan is to do so through Google Play, the store for apps on Android smart phones.
Although no specifics plans have been announced by the company, the plan is most likely to boost Google Play's presence in the Chinese market by partnering with local phone manufacturers to get the store on more phones (right now only a small percentage of smart phones in China come with Google Play pre-installed) and garnering support from Chinese software developers to create apps for Google Play.
Due to the fact that Google Play receives less attention from Chinese authorities than Google Search or Gmail, it will be easier for the company to grow the platform and compete in the main Chinese markets without the roadblocks of censorship and obstruction from local authorities.
Getting a new foothold in China is important to Google, and not just for the huge market potential of the world's second biggest economy. Google has lost ground in a lot of areas in China, especially in the search engine market. Google China is ranked third in search engines in China, after Baidu and Soso.com.
But is it too late for Google to catch up? Many products that Google might offer Chinese internet users have already been matched or beaten by Chinese products. WeChat, for example, started as a WhatsApp-like messaging service, but now provides a variety of services, including games, booking cabs, and paying bills. WeChat currently has 600 million users, a number Google would have a nearly impossible time catching up to.
Google has been both criticized and lauded for its stance on China, especially when it comes to information access and censorship, but at a certain point, a business is a business. For example, Apple complies with local Chinese laws, and has full access to the Chinese market. Apple made $13.2 billion in just the last quarter. Stands against censorship are all well and good, but such a huge and profitable market may be too great for Google to ignore.