Android largely unharmed in Google-China row

An Android phone delayed in China is now set to ship as device makers there keep using Android

A mobile phone with Google's Android operating system that was delayed in China will now ship next week, in the latest sign that Android has gone largely unscathed by a row between Google and the Chinese government.

A subsidiary of mobile carrier China Unicom has started letting users reserve the Motorola XT701 and estimates the phone will ship around March 13, according to its Web site. The pre-sale appeared to have started Thursday or later.

The price of the Motorola XT701 was listed as 4,299 yuan (US$630) on the China Unicom site. The 3G phone has a 3.7 inch touchscreen.

The Motorola phone was one of two Android phones delayed in China after Google said in January that it planned to stop censoring results on its China-based search engine. Google's announcement raised fears of a possible government backlash and harm to the use of Android in China. Google.cn is currently still censoring search results, but lifting its filters would defy Chinese regulations.

Google did postpone availability of Google apps on Android phones from Chinese carriers. That is certainly a blow for the company, said Zhang Jun, an analyst at research company Wedge MKI.

"Mobile is a really promising market," he said. After Google's announcement, Motorola formed a search deal with Google's Chinese rival, Baidu.com.

But interest in Android itself, an open-source OS, has stayed high among companies in China. Lenovo, China's top PC maker, and Dopod, which distributes HTC phones in China, both say their plans to use Android on upcoming phones have been unaffected.

The top executive at China Unicom this week called Android a mainstream OS and said the carrier, which is state-owned, will use it on phones. And a government-linked computer maker, Lemote Technology, is optimizing Android to run on a laptop with a Loongson microprocessor, part of a state-backed line of chips.

China's IT ministry has said it will not restrict the use of Android as long as the OS conforms with Chinese regulations.

Still, "right now people probably expect too much in China for Android," Zhang said. Windows Mobile is dominant in the country and some local phone makers simply use their own Linux-based OSes, he said. Chinese phone makers usually target low- or middle-end buyers, and Android so far is suited to high-end chipsets, he said.

That could change. One reason is that MediaTek, a Taiwanese company that supplies low-price chipsets to much of the Chinese market, is working on a package that pairs its hardware with Android.

A Motorola representative said the Android phone now on pre-sale was its only handset affected by Google's move.

The other Android phone delayed after Google's announcement was from Samsung. When asked if its phone had gone on sale or if any others were also affected, Samsung said it was still providing Android smartphones for Chinese customers.

A Google spokeswoman declined to comment.

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Owen Fletcher

IDG News Service
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