The Android Market is currently blocked in China, presumably by the Great Firewall. It may be temporary (there have been earlier blocks), but we tested it with different devices the result is always the same: connection expired. Blocks in China always come without any official public notification.
When Google Maps updated to 4.70 for Android it was blocked too. The last time I checked Gmail on my phone, that was blocked too. Google faces a severe deficit of trust with the Chinese government.
But fear not, China’s local app stores have you covered! While the rest of the world relies on Android Market, most Chinese Android users have a number of local markets and online forums to download their apps, including cracked versions with the best price tag of all: free.
Android phones sold through official channels are never equipped with Google’s Android Market. The norm is either a China Unicom Market or China Mobile, whose middling offerings leave a huge market gap for the local startups to provide downloads for apps.
Here’s a sampling of the alternative offerings in that space:
Wandoujia, an Innovation Works startup, is a mobile apps manager that bills itself as “iTunes for Android.” It’s PC desktop client that hosts most of the most popular app stores in China–the local ones that is, the Android Market is not included.
It provides an app search across all of the markets it supports. Anytime one of them has an update for your app, it will also update for you.
Apart from apps, you can also backup your phone’s contacts, messages and even the apps installed for future system reinstalls.
Tencent, China’s largest cloner, also recently launched an Android app manager that challenges Wandoujia.
GFan is an online forum. Internet forums were once completely dominant and are still an important form of online social networking in China. Users share millions of contents, including attachments, product info, etc.
GFan is an Android-specific forum. The site’s categories are divided by Android phone models, with an independent area for downloads. Piracy runs wild.
GFan also provides a mobile client for its forum with a search feature that allows you to search for app attachments shared by other users.
This is another online forum, by Xiaomi, that provides downloads for the latest MIUI OS and also user-shared apps. The forum runs on a point system where each download requires certain number of points (usually one). To earn points, all you have to do is interact in the forum, so it’s pretty much free anyway.
There is no point going through all of the local Android markets because there still isn’t much differentiation. But there are couple notable ones for you to check out:
And HTC Android phones come pre-installed with their own HTC Market. Every manufacturer wants a piece of the action.
So I wouldn’t be worried that with the Android Market banned from China users in this country will miss out on the top apps. But Google should worry about missing out on the lucrative business of selling apps, especially as most of the local markets provide pirated version of paid apps.
But this is a long standing problem and challenge for any software publisher or provider to tackle in China: for now, piracy still rules the sea of China.
tips [at] techrice [dot] com