The good news: Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)’s Android operating system dominates China’s smartphone market. The bad news: Google is capturing a small share of China’s quickly expanding mobile search market. While Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)’s problems in China are concerning, the real risk to Mountain View is that China may serve as a competitive blueprint for how to wrestle mobile market share away in the US.
Background: “Don’t Be Evil” And China Don’t Mix
Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)’s problems in China began in March of 2010, when the company, unhappy with China’s censorship demands, made the decision to route China search queries through its uncensored Hong Kong servers.
Since then, Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)’s business has come under pressure in China, with cyber attacks on the Google servers, internet portals dropping Google’s search engine, and most recently, China’s declarations that Android has become too dominant in the Chinese mobile market.
The result of China’s pressure? While Android runs 82% of China’s smartphones, the company has only a 20% share of the mobile search market. Compare that with the US market, where Android holds a 39% share of the market, but accounts for 82% of mobile search. Baidu.com, Inc. (ADR) (NASDAQ:BIDU) leads in China mobile search, holding a 78% share. The Beijing-based company recently announced quarterly revenues of $431 million, up 39% YOY, with 10% of revenues generated from the company’s mobile business.
China: The Blueprint for Mobile Search Competitors
Chinese OEMs take advantage of Android’s open-source design to remove access to Google search in their smartphones. In addition, Android apps in China are being modified by developers to remove the Google search engine.
This fact has not gone unnoticed by Google’s competitors, or by Google, which detailed the risk in its 2012 10-K filling with the SEC:
While Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) clearly has a strong grip on the US mobile search market, change in the mobile market is quick – In two short years, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s app store reached 200,000 apps. Samsung’s global smartphone market share went from 4% to 29% – This brisk evolution in mobile hardware and apps risks the quick development of an alternative to Google’s mobile search products.
A summary of some of the efforts that have been made, or are currently underway, to eat into Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)’s mobile search pie:
Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB)‘s Home, a suite of Android applications, was an effort to put the company’s social-networking features on users’ home and lock screens. The strategy for Home was to place Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) “a layer above” Google apps, as a way to capture advertising and search revenue. Home, however, has been a failure, with low adoption rates and poor user reviews. That said, Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) Home has shown the extent to which a competitor can bypass Google by “hijacking” an Android phone’s UI. Whether a “homepage skin” can be created that drives widespread adoption, however, remains to be seen.