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November 21, 2015

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Google Play for China set for 2016

GOOGLE, part of Alphabet Inc, aims to launch the China version of its Google Play smartphone app store next year, according to people familiar with the matter, its first major foray in the market since ending localized product support in 2010.

The Google Play app store would be set up specifically for China, and not connected to overseas versions of Google Play, two of the people said.

Google intends to comply with Chinese laws on filtering content and laws requiring the company to store the app store’s data within the country, those two people said. A Singapore-based Google spokesman declined to comment.

Google largely pulled its services out of China five years ago. It has maintained a limited presence in the world’s biggest smartphone market.

The US company would use a successful app store as a launch pad to get other products and services into the country, said two people familiar with Google’s thinking.

However, the company has not settled on which product might come next, they said.

Chief Executive Sundar Pichai and other top brass have made no secret that the company wants to get back into China, and Google Play will likely be its first foray.

But critics say Google has lost basically all ground in most of its major services, especially search and video streaming, to Chinese players.

For Google, having a product in China would be a symbolic gesture to show that the company values the market, said Shen Si, CEO of Chinese mobile advertising firm PapayaMobile and a former Google employee.

“If they want to break the ice with the Chinese market then they have to pick a pretty important product to make available to the Chinese people and make it really localized,” she said.

“Google Play would be a really good product for that because it’s not very sensitive.”

Google has had its employees working hard in China to lay the ground for the app store’s launch, said one of the people with knowledge of executives’ plans.

Google is hoping to launch Google Play in China some time after Chinese New Year in February and before early summer, that person said. Another person at a company in China that works with Google said the store will go live in 2016.

The company hopes the app store will include payment options Alipay, the online payment service from Alibaba Group’s finance arm Ant Financial Services Group, and Tencent Holding Ltd’s WeChat Payment, said the person familiar with executives’ thinking.

Rather than requiring explicit approval from the government to launch the app store, Google just needs to comply with Chinese laws including on data storage and content filtering, the person added.


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