When I was recently in China a number of my fellow travelers asked me if I could access the Google Play store. Over a Wi-Fi connection without a VPN I couldn't. I wasn't really all that much surprised, most Google services, Facebook, etc., etc, and most VPN services with servers outside of China are blocked as well, so why should the Play Store be accessible?
Well, for one thing I thought at first, because there are said to be 700 million Android based smartphones and tablets in China. As we are all taught how important it is to download software only from a carefully controlled App store these days, how are those 700 million devices getting software and updates? So I asked one of my local friends with a Chinese Android device if Chinese Android devices can access the Google Play store. As expected I got the answer that the Play store does not work in China and that people just search for Apps on Baidu (the local Google search equivalent) and install it right from a web page. Baidu offers and app store for Android as well but direct installation from web pages seems to be quite popular as well. So much for security screened apps and automatic updates.
Perhaps 700 million Android devices without access to the official store is one of the reasons why Android still makes it easy to download apps from, what is called, "unknown sources" in the user interface and allows to use alternative App stores (of which there seem to be quite many in China). If I were a cynic I would probably be thankful for the censorship so I have more freedom.
Which makes me wonder what kind of concessions Apple had to make as their app store can be accessed in China…