BEIJING — In its public wrangling with the Chinese government, Google Inc. not only risks losing access to millions of personal computers in China but also its toehold in the world’s largest cell phone market.

The American Internet giant has been providing handset manufacturers its Android operating system for free in hopes of penetrating a country where, soon, more people are expected to access the Internet on mobile phones than on desktop computers.

Although it is a distant second on computer searches, Google is nearly tied for first with Baidu Inc. for market share in China’s nascent mobile-search sector. But the company’s ambitions are in jeopardy now that Google has raised the ire of Beijing by redirecting Internet users in China on Tuesday to an uncensored search engine in Hong Kong.

Analysts say the Chinese government could pressure partners to sever ties with the company. And Google has acknowledged the possibility that its products could be blocked any day by censors.

“My concern is that lots of Google’s mobile services are based on search,” said Kevin Wang, director of China Research for iSuppli Corp. “Now we don’t know if we’ll still have their search engine in China.”

As long as access to the search engine remains, Google will be positioned to capture a growing share of mobile advertising.

Analysts say the company’s strategy is to get as many Web-enabled phones as possible into the hands of consumers to use their search engine.

That requires driving costs down for such devices — known as smart phones because they combine the features of a regular phone and a computer.

Google offers its platform for free to pass savings on to developers and trump competitors such as Microsoft, which charges a licensing fee to adopt its cell phone software.

Though mobile only represents 1 percent of China’s search-engine advertising, Google is one of many companies preparing for staggering growth in the coming years.

China has around 800 million cell phone subscribers, and many are expected to upgrade to smart phones as the nation’s 3G network expands. The share of the high-end devices is expected to double by 2013 to 36 percent, or 122.3-million units, according to technology research firm BDA China Ltd.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.