An Interesting Take on Android in China

Android logoAndroid is doing very well in China. But in something of an exclamation point on John Kirk’s musings on Android’s contribution to Google’s bottom line, Android in China may not be doing at all well for Google.

That’s the conclusion of a post at by Ovum analyst Siv Putcha (tip of the hat to Steve Crowley). Putcha argues that because the Chinese government blocks access to many Android services:

Chinese device vendors are using Android for their own purposes, and are increasingly at odds with Google’s preferred vision of Android’s developmental direction. As a result, Android is fragmenting beyond Google’s control, and Google’s Android strategy is rapidly coming undone in China with no immediate prospects for correction.

It’s not clear whether these millions of not-quite-Android phones being sold in China ever get registered with Google or count in Google’s activation total. But it seems certain that they are contributing little or nothing to the strategy of giving the software away and hoping to monetize services.

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Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.

751 thoughts on “An Interesting Take on Android in China”

  1. Steve, your take is both interesting and surprising. I’ve seen tons of headlines saying that Android was killing Apple in China. I tend to discount those because I think that profit share is more important than market share and I was waiting of Additional data to be posted.

    Now, it seems, that Android is being forked in China. What a strange business model Android has. I don’t people have any real idea of how very tenuous their grip on mobile computing truly is.

    1. I’ve known this for some time as our insights into China show a highly forked version implemented by the Chinese government. I have read different analysis stating the degree in which Google benefits from these devices which show up behind the Chinese wall. Neither seemed to conclusive but my own opinion is that Google can see these as activations but see no real benefit in terms of data collection or revenue from them.

      That being said last year less than 20 million Android smartphones shipped in China so its not a huge amount but it is growing fast with both tablets and smartphones growing over 100% cagr in China.

      My personal opinion on the whole matter is that activations is a loose term that benefits Google’s desire to make it seem larger than it is. If they were truly being transparent they would talk about device installed base not activations. We need to know how many of Android devices are actually in use today.

      The same problem exists for FB, they may have a billion accounts not a large portion of those accounts are inactive. Transparent companies will talk about accounts in use not other theoretical fluff.

      What really annoyed me about many of the comments on your article last week was the line of thinking of why should we care, Google doesn’t need to tell us anything. Sadly, those folks are not investors because if I was called to make an educated decision about a long or short view on Google, I could only do so with accurate market data and financials. Their vagueness makes it hard for many in the investment community to take a long view of their revenue potential. Thus not being transparent is actually bad for investors large and small.

      1. “If (Google) were truly being transparent they would talk about device installed base not activations.” – Ben

        If Google were truly being transparent, they’d talk to us about revenues or profits. I don’t think they’re talking about either of them because they’re embarrassingly low.

        “What really annoyed me about many of the comments on your article last week was…

        There were some annoying comments, but let me use this as an opportunity to say how great the vast majority of the comments to my article were. It was a heated debate, but it was a respectful debate. I’m thinking of doing a follow-up article focusing on the comments made. Tech.Pinions is one of the very few sites on the internet where you could get over 160 comments and not have the debate deteriorate into a brawl.

        Bravo, Tech.pinion commentators. Bravo!

        1. I’m not sure Google has any real idea of what the Android installed base is. Activations they are least know about and can count, although I doubt many phones ever get deactivated. (This is a problem counting with all sorts of devices.. I remember a few years ago, GE got very upset when an inventory showed they had far more PCs than employees. Then they realized they we counting large numbers of PCs that had long since been taken out of use, but were never taken off the inventory. They were fully depreciated, so it didn’t much matter)