In the aftermath of Tuesday’s (January 12) bombshell announcement, Google is now engaged in discussions with Chinese ministry officials about the “feasibility” of their business operations in China. Key points of contention include state censorship of “search” on Google.cn and incidences of cyber spying. Read > Google’s China Gambit
According to a Marbridge Consulting report, Google co-founder Sergei Brin addressed Google’s China workforce (approximately 700 employees) via a video-conference yesterday (January 14). Brin made it clear that no formal decision had yet been made about Google’s departure and future operations would depend upon the results of discussions with the Chinese government.
Despite Brin’s hopeful tone, the Marbridge post notes that Google China employees’ current work has been halted and Google plans to close their offices and depart China over the next two months. However, there is one notable exception to the Google exodus strategy. Marbridge reports that Google will continue with their Android mobile operating system (MOS) projects in China. “Approximately 100 Android engineers will remain, and additional engineers may be transferred as the project requires.”
While Google.cn “search” may be on the way out, it’s no surprise that Android will continue to be a part of China’s plans. The big three mobile carriers in China – China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom, all have plans to develop Android-based mobile operating systems (MOS). These customized OSes are designed to support/promote the carriers’ own value-added services platforms (e.g. music, ringtones, apps, messaging, e-books, e-news portals, cloud storage, etc.).
China Mobile has the most at stake with Android and has spent tens of millions of yuan on development of their Android-based MOS dubbed “Open Mobile System” (OMS). Trashing OMS and starting over would be expensive and painful for China Mobile, and despite the recent tensions between Google and China, this Android project appears to have been salvaged.
Android smartphones are the other key part of China’s plans. Many of these phones will run the carriers’ customized Android MOSes. China Mobile is leading the way with their OPhones (Android phones running China Mobile’s customized Android MOS and supporting TD-SCDMA 3G). China Mobile launched their 1st OPhone in November 2009 with plans for a dozen more by the end of 2010.
A key unanswered question is whether Google will retain their mobile search deal with China Mobile? My guess is “no.” Baidu.com could easily replace Google as the default mobile search engine. That switch out would be relatively painless for China Mobile. If Google holds to their “no more filtered searches” stance, then I expect China Mobile will be told to nullify “law-breaking” Google’s contact.
For more background, read > China Mobile snuggles up to Android