The news in a Reuters report that Google may reintroduce the Google Play Store to China throws up some interesting but ambiguous possibilities for the search giant. For one thing, this brings Google back officially to a huge market already dominated by Android. But it also opens up Google to fresh censorship and ethical concerns.
As far back as September, reports indicated that Google was headed in this direction. For better or worse, they now seem confirmed. Google officially withdrew compliance with China’s censorship regime in 2010, and the Chinese government has been keeping up its attacks on Google in the country ever since. Android, including localized variants for China, still dominates global smartphone OS market share, and an official Google Play Store relaunch will give Google a revenue stream from the world’s biggest smartphone market. Plus, the lockout has simply driven Chinese users to download pirated copies of apps – a habit that may prove hard to break. But with Google Play Store now leading heavily on content as well as apps, and apps themselves frequently content-rich, the argument that the Google Play Store somehow can sidestep censorship is cosmetic at best.
Vendors of paid e-reading apps like Mantano may also be pleased, but as the graphic above, from Enfodesk courtesy of Publishing Technology, illustrates, that’s not undiluted good news. The e-reader market may be fragmented, with no player enjoying a significant market share, but there are also plenty of popular homegrown apps, with no obvious route to gain market dominance. An Amazon-style operation linked to a major e-book vendor like Dangdang might succeed, but Google may struggle to gain much commercial benefit from it, and non-Chinese players may see little to none at all.