Google Play smartphone app 'set for mainland China launch next year'

Tech giant plans first major foray across border since pulling services in 2010 over censorship

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 November, 2015, 3:11am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 November, 2015, 3:11am

Google, part of Alphabet Incorporated, aims to launch the mainland version of its Google Play smartphone app store next year, according to people familiar with the matter, in its first major foray there since ending localised product support in 2010.

The Google Play app store would be set up specifically for the mainland, and not connected to overseas versions of Google Play, two of the people said.

They said Google intends to comply with mainland laws on filtering content that might be viewed as sensitive by the ruling Communist Party, and laws requiring the company to store the app store's data within China.

A Singapore-based Google spokesman declined comment.

Google largely pulled its services out of the mainland five years ago after refusing to continue self-censoring its search results. It has maintained a limited presence in the world's biggest smartphone market, but most of its services have been rendered almost inaccessible.

The US company would use a successful app store as a launch pad to place other products on the mainland, said two people familiar with Google's thinking.

They said, however, that the company had not settled on which product might come next.

Chief Executive Sundar Pichai and other top brass have made no secret that the firm wants to get back into China, and Google Play would likely be its first foray.

But critics say Google has lost ground in most of its major services, especially search and video streaming, to Chinese players.

The biggest competition might come from products on the wrong side of the law, said technology analyst Rob Enderle. "There are a substantial number of free ways people get music in China that makes it difficult for any service, especially from the West, to get into the market."

For Google, having a product in China would be a symbolic gesture to show that the company values the market, said Shen Si, chief executive of Chinese mobile advertising company PapayaMobile and a former Google employee.

"If they want to break the ice with the Chinese market then they have to pick a pretty important product to make available to the Chinese people and make it really localised," she said.

"Google Play would be a really good product for that because it's not very sensitive."

Google has had its employees working hard to lay the ground for the app store's launch, said one of the people with knowledge of executives' plans.

The firm is hoping to launch Google Play some time after Lunar New Year, or before early summer, that person said. Another person at a mainland firm that works with Google said the store would go live in 2016.