That didn’t take long.
Just two days after I explored the effect Google’s potential departure from China would have on the Android ecosystem, Reuters, the Associated Press and others said Google has postponed the launch of two Android phones.
The AP wrote:
““It is postponed,” Google Inc. spokeswoman Marsha Wang said. She said a launch ceremony planned for Wednesday was canceled but declined to give a reason for the decision or to say when the launch might be rescheduled.“
I think we know why the launch has been canceled. Relationships between Google and China have frozen so intensely they may snap. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal noted (paywall warning):
“Due to uncertainty over the future of many Google offerings in China, the U.S. Internet company felt it would be “irresponsible” to release the phones in China at this time, said a person familiar with the situation.“
Reuters said the manufacturers of the phones are Motorola and Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, and China Unicom would have been the carrier.
So not only does Android take a hit — fewer phones mean fewer apps and Web services through which to deliver Google’s precious advertising — but its hardware partners get dinged as well. Poor Motorola. First the Nexus One swoops in to cancel out the Droid’s cachet and now this. At least Motorola has found placement for Android devices in Korea.
The delay comes one week after Google said it will stop censoring its Chinese search portal Google.cn and threatened to cease operations in the country entirely after it learned that its Gmail users were being targeted by Chinese hackers.
The delay is an unfortunate move necessitated by uncertainty of how China should treat Google after its threat. Chinese businesses — in this case, China Unicom — would be loath to work with Google to provide phones with the government looking at it with a cautionary eye, if not clandestine threats.
In any case, the postponement of the Google phones shows just how sensitive this issue is. Google merely threatened to exit China and already its business is at a standstill, with Google employees there told to take a holiday.
Imagine if Google left the country completely, whether by its own volition or through the Chinese government’s authority. Android, Google’s search and Google’s plans to make money in the country would be dead.
While Google may only reap 1 percent of its revenues in China, it would certainly miss out on the promise for future growth. With 360 million Web users, China is fertile ground for mobile advertising opportunities.
Analysts told me Google could grab a proxy to offer its Web services and applications on its behalf. That would keep the mobile ads from drying up. I suppose anything is possible, but that seems unlikely. Google just may turn its back on the country.