Motorola said Thursday it is launching an Android application store for mobile phone users in China, hoping that third-party applications will take off in the crucial Asian market as they have in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Schaumburg-based Motorola, which is making a huge bet on Google’s Android platform as it turns around its mobile devices business, already has encouraged growth in applications by hosting conferences in the U.S. and making resources available to software developers.
The concept of mobile phone applications is still in a very early stage in China, where Apple’s iPhone — which is largely credited with popularizing apps in other countries — has been officially available only since the end of October.
Android is also new; Motorola released its first two Android devices for China last month.
“Within the Chinese (Android) market specifically, there hasn’t been a mechanism for users to customize or personalize their devices by downloading applications,” said Christy Wyatt, Motorola’s corporate vice president for software and services in mobile devices.
She added that global developers also have been seeking a way to sell their applications in China.
The Chinese store is called SHOP4APPS, and its Chinese name translates to “Place for Apps Wisdom.” The store will be launched in time for Chinese New Year next month. Motorola said the store eventually will be available for licensing by other companies, including device manufacturers.
Motorola’s announcement comes amid a turbulent period for Google in China, as the search giant has threatened to pull out of the country over government restrictions on search-engine results.
News reports this week also said Google was delaying a planned launch of two Android phones, one manufactured by Motorola, because of uncertainty around the California-based company’s Chinese operations.
On the new Android device that Motorola launched with China Telecom, Google search is the only one that comes pre-loaded on the phone. The SHOP4APPS store will have search applications from a number of providers, including Chinese company Baidu, which is the leading search engine in the country.
“We have the ability to customize the search experience, depending on the operators’ preference,” Wyatt said, emphasizing that customers using SHOP4APPS will have choice when it comes to customizing their phones with applications.
Wyatt said Motorola’s investment in the Chinese Android market and burgeoning developer community is a long-term commitment that is expected to flourish despite the current noise. A Motorola-hosted developer summit held two weeks ago in Beijiing drew 800 local participants.
“To be fair, there’s been a lot of questions, but this is something we’ve been working on for a period of time,” Wyatt said.
Research firm Gartner Inc. said in a report released this week that it expects worldwide downloads from mobile application stores to hit 4.5 billion this year, up from 2.5 billion in 2009.
By 2013, that number will hit 21.6 billion, with free downloads representing for 87 percent of the total. Gartner said it expects games to be the most-downloaded kind of application.
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