Five years since Google pulled its services out of China, the company is ready to go back on different terms, according to a report in The Information. People “familiar” with Google’s plans have told The Information that this fall Google will seek Chinese government approval for a specially adapted version of the Play Store, one that would allow it to operate within the rules imposed by the authorities in the country.
Android Wear is also slated for an imminent return, the report says, which will re-establish Google as an Internet services provider within China itself (storing data locally and operating in line with government censorship). It was censorship legislation and allegations of Gmail snooping that prompted Google to pull out of the country in the first place.
With the Chinese and Asian mobile markets exploding, it seems Google is ready to make a return (a move we first got wind of in June) — perhaps the company feels it’s better to have those millions of users on its Google apps even if it has to jump through a few legal hoops to get them cleared for use. Android is the most popular mobile OS in China, but hardly any of the handsets have Google Play services and apps installed; meanwhile, companies such as Oppo, Xiaomi, and Huawei are going from strength to strength with their own forks of Android.
And let’s not forget Apple’s recent successes in the country either: Google isn’t going to want to fall too far behind its rival, and it’s much more important for users to be tied into apps like Gmail, Google Maps and Google Drive than it is for them to actually be using Android (although that helps too).
For now this is still speculation, but The Information has been right before — and it makes perfect sense for Google to want to make a return to China. With China and other Asian countries adding new mobile users at an exponential rate, the race is on between the mobile companies to grab as big a piece of the pie as possible. Google’s rumored tie-up with Huawei for the new Nexus 6 won’t hurt either.