The Google Android OS is growing in popularity at a frightening rate. And, according to the numbers at least, one of its fastest growing markets is in China.
In just the last quarter of this fiscal year, Chinese consumers have purchased between 40 and 50 million smartphones (compared to just 19 million in the United States). There were around 180 million smartphone users in China in Q2 and 80 million of those users were running Android.
But numbers can be misleading. And if you look a little more closely you’ll see that far fewer Chinese residents own Google phones. In fact, almost none of them do.
The trouble lies in the way you define an Android phone. Android users know they have a Android phone because they have access to Google Maps, the Google Play app store and all of the other Android perks that make Google’s OS unique.
Google knows that you have an Android phone because of all of the revenue that you kick back to it (your other article on Google anti-trust).
But while phones running the Android OS are technically selling like hotcakes in China, the version of Android that they’re running has very little in common with the Android OS that we enjoy in more western areas of the world.
For example, Android phones sold in China come without Google Maps, Gmail or Google Calendar. Through the web, most of Google Search is blocked by the Chinese government.
The Google Play app store is inaccessible on most Android phones — even the Samsung Galaxy S III. And those who have it can only download free applications because purchases are not supported.
And this limited access means that even Google misses out. Even free apps downloaded to Chinese devices generate no Adsense revenue for Google. And Google has no access to the user information that helps them target ads, goods and services to Google users’ individual tastes. That also means no Google Now for Chinese customers — assuming they could download it, which they can’t.
As things stand now, neither Android nor Android’s customers are benefiting much from the exponential market growth in China. We’re not sure what that means for Android’s future in China.
Today China — roughly 90% of China — is happy to use the most popular phone OS in the world. But it seems that Google is leaving the door wide open for an Android competitor that can speak more directly to China’s needs via localized apps and search engines that Chinese customers can actually use.
Before you start getting your hopes up about Apple’s prospects, you should know that Cupertino’s former smartphone giant is having problems of its own in China. Facilitating payments via the App Store is proving difficult for them to. And none of the iPhone models are available through China Mobile, China’s biggest wireless carrier.
But this would be a great market for the Windows Phone to break into. Apple and Android are currently stymied the market is wide open. Or perhaps an indigenous company like Xiaomi will corner the world’s largest market and then come to the west.
The future is unclear. But whoever takes China will likely take over most of the rest of the market by default. After all, anywhere from a quarter to a third of the phones active in the world today are in China. So if I were in the business of making OS’, I would hurry up and get on the ball.