Update (1/16/18): Yesterday, we brought you the surprising news that Google was returning to China. The search giant allegedly launched a China-specific version of Google Maps for web and iOS. It looks like the original source may have gotten some wires crossed because Google is releasing a statement to deny that it has launched a new version of Maps for China. “There have been no changes to Google Maps in China. Maps has been accessible on desktop for years, but does not have an official presence in Android or iOS app stores in China,” a spokesperson said.
Google obviously has interest in the most populated country in the world. There are hundreds of millions of potential customers in China, but Google has had a limited presence for years. Google refuses to follow the censorship rules of the Chinese government, so it chooses not to compete in the country. There have been recent signs that Google and the Chinese government could repair their relationship, and launching a new version of Maps in the country would have been a significant step. Unfortunately, it looks like that isn’t the case just yet.
Original article (1/15/18): Google is making a major return to China, as a version of its Google Maps service is now available for users in that country. Google Maps, along with most of Google’s other popular services, have not been available in China since 2010.
Nikkei was the first to report on Google Maps’ return to China. In addition to the China version of the Google Maps site, the company has also launched a map app for iPhones in that country as well. However, it’s not all good news; another mapping app opens when users try to use the navigation feature. That app is named AutoNavi and is operated by China-based Alibaba Group Holding.
The article speculates that this change in Google’s strategy in China is part of a desire by both the company and the Chinese government to work together on AI-based services. The government in particular wants to help develop self-driving cars, and working with Google’s mapping, and AI teams may help accelerate that development.
However, other major parts of Google’s company are still not available in China, such as Google Search and YouTube. China highly censors internet content in the country, and Google has not been willing to abide by China’s laws.