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Google may return to China with a censored app store

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Google may be planning a return to mainland China in the near future. According to The Information, Google hopes to open up a version of the Play Store in China sometime this fall, beginning to reestablish its presence throughout the country.

Google largely abandoned China five years ago

Back in 2010, Google largely abandoned China over concerns of cyberattacks and surveillance. It was a bold, if commercially risky, move meant to protect users of Google's services and assert Google's values. The situation in China likely hasn't changed in the years since, but it may simply be that Google can no longer ignore the country's enormous technology market. Apple is already there with phones and an app store, after all, and China is expected to become its dominant market.

Google and China didn't exactly leave things on good terms, however, so it may need help getting back into the country. The Information reports that Google will lean heavily on partners, possibly such as Huawei, to include the Play Store with phones sold throughout China. Chinese phone manufacturers apparently haven't been including Google's services on their Android phones, both because Google's services aren't very available and because many profit off of their own app stores. That means Google may have to offer manufacturers some sort of incentive to begin bundling the Play Store with new phones — Huawei, for instance, appears to be an upcoming hardware partner on a Nexus phone.

Distributing a version of the Play Store in China will also require government approval. The Information reports that Google will have to agree to block apps that the Chinese government doesn't want within the country, meaning that Google will have to go back to censoring content for China. Google has reportedly already told regulators that it's willing to do that, and it apparently doesn't plan to sell media like movies and books at all. Google declined to comment on the report.

Getting Android Wear into China is also said to be a big focus

Google also intends to begin making a push for Android Wear inside of China, according to The Information. With Android Wear, Google appears to have the same distribution issue as with the Play Store: many smartphones sold in China don't include its services or don't update to newer versions of the operating system, significantly limiting the distribution of Google's smartwatch platform. Google's solution here also seems to involve forging partnerships with local companies, though it isn't clear how widely it has thus far managed to do this.

The Play Store version that would run in China will apparently only work on Android Marshmallow, according to the report. Given the targeted "fall" launch date, that could mean that the store will launch alongside the new version of Android, which will likely be released within a month or so. Just getting an app store into China will be a big move for Google, but getting traction with it — especially since local app stores are now well established — is a fight it'll have to take on next.