Talk about unfortunate timing of a product launch: Just as Google is getting ready to pack up and leave China, SAIC is making last preparations to launch their Google Android powered homegrown luxo-barge Roewe 350 at Beijing’s Auto Show (April 25 -May 2, 2010, I’ll be there.) The Rover Roewe will be added to the growing list of Google Android-based devices just as the spat between Google and China is turning into a full-fledged brawl.
According to ZD-Net, the Android platform will help the Roewe 350 “keep drivers and passengers connected to the web while on the open road.” The DVD and GPS system will be running the most recent OS release: Android 2.1. ZD-Net says “amenities include direct web access and real-time traffic reports. The system also provides access to chat applications.” (Don’t tell LaHood. He could start at trade war over driver distraction in China.) Chinese drivers will be protected from the distractions of Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Blogspot and more, as these sites are blocked in China anyway.
How the car will connect to the Internet is not clear yet. There is conventional GSM in China, which doesn’t have the bandwidth. Then there are two competing 3G standards. One, used by China Unicom, is compatible with worldwide UMTS standards, the other is a homegrown system that is used by the world’s largest mobile phone provider, China Mobile (527.398 subscribers as of January 2010.)
Google had planned to launch its Android phone in China in January with China Unicom, but delayed the launch over the row between Google and the Chinese government. The silence over RoeweÄs network provider probably has a reason.
Government-owned China Daily reported yesterday that “Google will close its business in China next month and may announce its plans in the coming days.” The move appears to be definite.
A Google-obituary already appeared in China Daily, saying that “Google’s relations with the US government cannot be deeper. US media has said Google was the fourth-largest supporter of Barack Obama in his election campaign.”
Today, China’s state-owned news agency Xinhua launched a defiant op-ed missile in the direction of Mountain View: “Whether Google leaves or not, the Chinese government will keep its Internet regulation principles unchanged.”
There probably is a lot of head-scratching at government-owned SAIC over the choice of the Android platform. But there is no going back. According to China Car Times, production of the Roewe 350 has already started on March 17, including the gadgetry based on “the 2.1 Android operating system, which is the same as what you will find in Google’s latest Nexus handset.” If the Chinese will ever find the handset in China. In Hong Kong, the phone is available.
There are a lot of people who are convinced that a ghost lurks in the machine of the Toyota cars. Now imagine the magnitude of the fall-out if Google evacuates China, leaving Google-powered orphaned Roewes behind. Then, a Roewe 350 smashes into a group of bicyclists …