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Google Search and Maps take a pounding in China

Govt restrictions and local rivals undermine Android advantage

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Google is sinking without a trace in China, according to market-watchers who now place it fourth in the domestic search market and claim its Maps service tumbled to sixth position after a near double figures percentage decline.

The Chocolate Factory was struggling for market share even before its well-publicised post-Operation Aurora spat with the Chinese authorities in 2010.

Local rival Baidu made the most of it when Google decided to re-locate its search servers to Hong Kong, outside the Great Firewall, and it has found the going tough ever since.

The web giant now sits a lowly fourth in the Chinese search market in both page views and unique visitors, with a little over 4.5 per cent, according to October stats from CNZZ (via Marbridge Daily).

Baidu is way out in front with around 73 per cent, with Chinese web firms Sogou (7.8 per cent) and Qihoo 360 (9.7 per cent) in between.

It is Qihoo’s rapid rise since it burst onto the search scene in the northern summer that has done most to hurt Google’s share.

The firm was a key partner for Google but then dropped the US giant from its hugely popular portal site hao.360.cn as the default search option and replaced it with its own so.360.cn service.

The decision to locate its datacentre outside China means Google searches from inside the Great Firewall can be inconsistent and unreliable, with users often presented with error messages – another reason to go with the local, albeit self-censoring, search service providers.

To improve the user experience it recently rolled out a Communist Party-baiting tool designed to alert users if a search keyword is likely to cause censorship, and therefore connection, issues.

On the mobile mapping side, Q3 stats from Beijing-based Analysys International saw Google Maps tumble from second to sixth place, dropping from a share of 17.5 per cent to just 9 per cent.

Apple’s decision to drop Google Maps from iOS6 in favour of its own client can’t have helped matters.

The mapping market could get even tougher for Google in the near future thanks to strict new proposed regulations and the imminent arrival of yet more local competition.

The authorities recently announced proposals which would increase fines for providers failing to include territorial outposts on their maps, and mandate that all online map providers locate their datacentres within China.

Meanwhile, reports have emerged that local web giants Baidu, Tencent and others are currently developing their own rival mapping services.

Given Android’s huge success in China – it accounts for over 70 per cent of the market according to Analysys – it’s somewhat ironic that Google isn’t able to capitalise better in promoting its services.

However, it is Chinese web service providers that are gaining the most from the OS, with local OEM's often pre-installing their offerings on handsets in favour of Google's.

This has given the web giant no option in the short term but to try and contain Android’s Chinese forks, such as Alibaba’s Aliyun, according to a recent Ovum report.

“The Maps issue is an extension of Google's broader problems in China,” Ovum analyst Shiv Putcha told The Reg. “They are unable to get the foothold they have in other markets since Android isn't working the way it should for them in China. In fact, Android is helping the local ecosystem but not Google.”

Gartner analyst Sandy Shen added that Google simply hasn't been committed enough to China in the past.

"By contrast, many local vendors focus solely on China, and have made continuous investments in product development, partnerships, distribution and promotions. So it is no surprise that Google keeps declining," she told El Reg. ®

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