China's Android Market block 'major setback' for Google

update Restriction to appstore access means consumers lose out on choice, but also poses bigger problems for Google as lack of cohesive marketplace could drive users to other platforms, analyst says.

update Android users in China are experiencing restrictions in accessing Google's Android Market and, while this hurts users in terms of choice, the search giant has more to lose as the lack of a cohesive marketplace can drive consumers to other platforms.

According to Blocked in China, a Web site that tracks whether URLs are accessible across five major provinces in the country--Beijing, Shenzhen, Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang and Yunnan--the Android Market is deemed inaccessible to Chinese users. There is no news on why the marketplace is being blocked.

Commenting on the block, Ben Cavender, associate principal with China Market Research, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail that the move would ultimately hurt both Google and consumers. For consumers, choice is always good and anything that limits them in terms of their options or ease of getting application onto their handsets is a setback, he noted.

However, the appstore restriction is likely to pose a bigger problem for the search giant, the analyst pointed out. He said Google has "really struggled" in China and this is a "major setback" for them because the lack of a cohesive marketplace can easily drive consumers to other mobile platforms.

Cavender explained: "The mobile market in China is incredibly competitive and consumers upgrade their phones every nine months on average. This means that they can very quickly migrate to another hardware provider or operating system (OS) if they are not happy."

He added that Apple's iOS devices and Microsoft's Windows Phone handsets might well get an additional boost should consumers decide to migrate away from Google's platform.

The Internet giant is also facing threats from local competitors, with Chinese companies such as Baidu, Alibaba and startup Xiaomi, introducing their own versions of Android-based operating systems paired with cheap, feature-rich handsets.

Should the Android Market remain blocked for the long term, this would pose a "serious issue" for Google, Cavender stated, noting that the company had invested so much in the development of Android to tap the growth in Internet usage and advertising via mobile devices. If consumers moved away from Android, Google would lose out on access to a major revenue stream, he elaborated.

Google has subsequently come out to clarify that the restriction in access experienced in China was for the Web-based Android Market only, and that it was down to a software glitch rather than the Chinese government blocking the site. This was highlighted in a report by ZDNet Asia's sister site CNET, in which Google spokesperson Taj Meadows said: "We identified a technical issue during a software update and have now fixed it."


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