Google may be finding its way back to mainland China, five years after the company shut down many operations there following disagreements with the Chinese government.
As early as this fall, the tech giant hopes to gain regulatory approval to distribute a special China version of its Google Play app store for smartphones running on its Android operating system, the website The Information reported Friday, citing unnamed sources. On top of that, Google is also preparing to unveil as soon as this month a new China version of its Android Wear software to run wearables such as smartwatches, the publication said.
For the app store, Google agreed to abide by local laws and block apps the government sees as objectionable, the report said.
Google declined to comment on the report.
If Google makes these announcements, this would be a marked softening of its stance on China. In 2010, Google shut down its local search engine there and moved some operations to Hong Kong so it could avoid self-censoring its search results, as the Chinese government requires. Around the same time, Google also accused China of being involved in cyberattacks against it.
The creation of software specific to China could give Google more control in that country over Android, which smartphone makers have been free to modify for their own devices, making for a fragmented market. Tighter control would make it easier for app developers to create new Android apps for China, the biggest smartphone market in the world, by users. A new Google app store would also help the company compete with local app stores, including those from Tencent, Baidu and Xiaomi.
Still, Google may also open itself up to criticism that it’s capitulating to China after it took a hard stance against censorship there.
The Information in November also reported that a new version of the Google Play app store was on the way for China, though the publication now reports that an announcement may be more imminent.