China Ruined the Android Experience

I was pretty excited when I first got my Android phone. Yeah, the Hero a bit sluggish, but that’s been fixed, and the Sense UI is even being updated to support the latest version of Android. So far, so good.

Starting about a month ago, however, I could no longer download anything from the Android Market (Google’s version of the iPhone app store). I figured it was a network glitch that would clear up soon. No, it’s not going to clear up soon. China has blocked all downloads from the Android market.

To be perfectly clear, then, this is what I lose out on, simply because I’m in China:

  • No native Facebook integration (Facebook is blocked in China)
  • No native Twitter integration (Twitter is blocked in China)
  • No new apps of any kind (all downloads from the market are blocked in China)

I bought a phone that does some amazing things. But it depends on the internet working correctly in order to do them. By “working correctly,” of course, I mean not being blocked.

If I want to get around this, I have to pay for a VPN service, and I have to learn how to set it up on my Android phone (potentially complicated). Oh, and the Android phones have just hit the China market. (Not a coincidence.)

On a related note, I was once excited about Google Voice, hoping it could bring me closer to family and friends back home. Now I realize, though, that the idea of Google Voice’s revolutionary services extending to China are simply naive.

I still love living in China, but I have to say, the single most frustrating part of living here for me is watching this government shoot down every single new way the internet is connecting the world.

So yeah, I have a VPN. And yeah, it’s time to get geekier.

45 Comments to “China Ruined the Android Experience

  1. amber says:

    what about iPhone apps, are they blocked too?

    amb ;)

  2. Jonathan says:

    Does this mean a hacked iPhone is the king of all smart phones in China?

    And how exactly does someone like you get geekier? Are you going to start wearing a Klingon forehead or something?

  3. Steve says:

    Apple iPhone was only officially released in China on October 30th. The first model doesn’t have any Wi-Fi as the Chinese government said that wasn’t allowed. Once production began, they changed their minds. So the first iPhones will be crippled, expensive and undesirable. There are an estimated 2 million iPhones imported from elsewhere than do have W-Fi….so there has been and will continue to be a black market in full-function iPhones.

    China is a mess. Good luck to anyone who tries to do business there. Unless you’re extremely lucky (and pay BIG bribes), someone else will almost certainly be getting the money you though you’d make there.

  4. pfmiller says:

    You can still use free apps that you download from the web on your Android, can’t you?

  5. Julian says:

    John,

    I’m in Hangzhou and running a jailbroken iPhone. I was initially really frustrated with the whole facebook, twitter, app store censorship, but now I just run everything through a VPN (even the slow ass 2G internet). It was cheap, and super easy to set up. I highly recommend doing so as it will allow you to enjoy your investment.

    Julian

  6. Steven says:

    Is setting up a VPN on Android as tough as that linked post suggests? I’ve still not gotten my hands on an Android device.

    On iPhone it’s easy to use a VPN that supports PPTP & L2TP (see my site, where I’ve recently written about both free & paid-for VPNs), so Android is at a disadvantage if it’s so tough.

    But I feel your pain, too: without a VPN, my iPod Touch’s Facebook, YouTube, and Twitterific apps are pretty much unusable, too. 烦死了!

    I’m waiting for the day Google (et al) really gets pissed and complains to the WTO about loss of revenue through unfair trade barriers…

  7. kylehase says:

    You don’t need to wait for Google to extend Google Voice. I use it outside the supported area using GUAVA. http://androinica.com/2009/07/24/android-google-voice-guava-sim-free-calling-options/

  8. Sacrish says:

    as a chinese, i’m really grateful to those smugglers who have made it possible for me to own an intact & genuine n79 phone with wi-fi and umts. and thank those who developed kinds of proxy and vpn services 2.

  9. Carl says:

    Welcome to the VPN club, I’m surprised it took you this long to find a need for one. I suggest Witopia, but make sure to get the SSTP not PPTP, its blocked in China or so they tell me. That and its faster. First you want to make sure your phone will be able to use the SSTP though, my iPhone only works with PPTP as far as I know.

  10. Amber,

    Good to see a comment from you! :)

    No, the iPhone’s app store is unblocked… for now.

  11. Jonathan,

    Ha ha, trust me, I can get geekier (even before going Klingon).

  12. pfmiller,

    Yes, I can download the .apk files, transfer to my SD card, and then install that way, but it’s really a lot of trouble. It kind of defeats the whole purpose!

  13. @Julian: Thanks for the encouragement. I’m definitely going to figure out this VPN thing.

    @Steven: I sure hope it’s not that complicated. I hear the new Android Android firmware natively supports VPNs, so that’s good news. (That post is old.)

    @Carl: For the longest time, I had a VPN, but still considered it too much of a hassle to use a lot. I don’t really use Facebook much, and I could post to Twitter other ways. Plus Witopia tends to mess with my Gmail connection a lot (making it inaccessible), which is a hassle. Now I have more motivation to figure it all out, though.

  14. kylehase,

    Thank you so much for that link! This is awesome! I have arranged a call from my family for first thing in the morning (their time). I’m psyched!

  15. Beat those stone-age bureaucrats with 21st century technology. It might be annoying some time, but mostly works. I always got my stuff while living there for a year. Witopia.org is a pretty neat and cheap VPN. They also support iPhones.

  16. gizmo5 looks awesome….thanks for the link…..if only I could sign up :(

  17. Martin says:

    Yea time to move to Taiwan

  18. Hey John-

    As a fellow gator living in the mainland, I highly suggest the UFL VPN service. It’s A) Free, B) Super easy to use (way easier than the last VPN I paid for), and C) Fully functional. I haven’t yet run across a website it cannot access, and it starts in about 3 clicks and 15 seconds once I’m connected to the web. Plus, if you’re always connected to the web, it auto-connects. /And/ it’s not super slow, although obviously there will be a little bit of a drop in speed, especially if you bounce back to a Chinese website.

    The one catch is that your gatorlink username must be still active. Mine still is a couple years after graduation, so I figure yours might be as well. If you can still access myUFL, then it’s probably still active.

    The vpn page can be found here , although I’m not sure if it will support Android or not. It says nothing specifically about it in the FAQ, although this does not necessarily mean no. iPhones “have been known to work”.

    If you moderate your comments, feel free to not post this one if you like, but if you end up using it let me know how it works out! Go Gators! (Especially ones in China!) ((Shameless plug check out my blog!))

  19. unban themainman says:

    Im in hong kong and frickin chinesepod wont load…wtf?!?!??! talk about annoying!!!

  20. kastner says:

    Hey John, just saw this post, are you able to connect to Market now anyway? If not, I’ll send you the solution. Actually I had the same problem, but just to substitute the host file in Android system will work again.

  21. Jaques says:

    so I’ve been away for many years now and haven’t had to use VPNs, but if China knows (and of course it does), that people can still circumvent the GFW, why do they even bother? (or is it as someone might have suggested, a way for some providers to make money? the poor in the meanwhile having to stay behind the wall!)

  22. Fernando says:

    Hey, I just bought my hero and the market is working fine… I find a problem with some apps that once installedd they cannot connect such as Last.fm or Layar. Of course the social integration of Sense is useless as you mentioned…

    could you confirm if you still having problems? by now I usually connect to the internet through wifi but I’m thinking on switching to China unicom to get 3G

  23. Fernando,

    I actually just posted an update (linked to right above your comment), stating that I can once again access the Android Market. Let’s hope it lasts!

  24. justin says:

    think that’s frustrating? try being told to sleep on the street cause you don’t have the right nationality to stay in a hotel. just spent the first 1.5 days of my shanghai “trip” to find a hotel that allows foreigners to stay in it. (yeah go ahead and snicker at me crowd that can afford 1000kuai/night star-rated places which have no issues)

  25. justin says:

    … and the two that i did finally find don’t have internet at all — they told me the ‘monitoring’ censorship service is too expensive.

  26. …so you found a random Shanghai-based blog and decided to complain? Effective.

    @John- You ever try the UF VPN?

    PS- I keep finding my life is remarkably like yours, on a few year delay.

  27. xm88 says:

    my market has been working fine. Shanghai China Telecom.

  28. modern slaverey says:

    there are far more things going wrong in china then just blocked internet…

  29. herm says:

    I got me a Nexus One, ordered from Google, and I can access the Android market just fine without VPN. Actually sometimes it only works without the VPN, but that’s another story. What I wanted to say was just that if you use VPN on Android I can recommend this Android app for faster connecting. Cheers

  30. herm says:

    Forgot to add: you’re right about FB and Youtube, et c. All the apps for those blocked sites need VPN in order to work.

    Speaking of this, thought I’d just mention this page for a VPN that works well on Android. It really wasn’t that difficult to set up (see the instructions linked from the page). Or maybe I was just lucky :)

    Hope it helps someone.

  31. Daniel Li says:

    Hey John I am working in Shenzhen and have recently bought a HTC desire on my trip back to taiwan. And after several researches on adroid markets, I figured out that android market cannot be synchronized through PC like iphone. So Im really interested in this VPN you’re using. Can you please offer me a little bit more details on this, such as installing, price, etc. Im currently using VPN on my PC but it kinds of slow down and takes a long while to load pages like facebook, does this happen on phone too?

    THanks for your help!!

    Daniel

  32. Michael says:

    Last week – market started closing and I could not authenicate to my google account.. so gmail and talk stopped working. so I setup a vpn.

    Apparently lots of people in that boat now http://www.shanghaiexpat.com/phpbbforum/android-market-blocked-since-6-13-t111298.html

    Yes.. I got everything to work through VPN on my nexus one. I was already on Witopia, so was able to use their PPTP product. (you already need a VPN if you are in china and want to do anything serious on the internet ) It is very easy to setup.

  33. jones says:

    It seems that now and again a download from the market fails, and then I turn on the VPN and it works. Just wish the VPN could turn on automatically as soon as it connected to wifi…

  34. Lee Hofweber says:

    John,

    what website did you get your VPN from? I’m interested in getting one.

  35. hayho says:

    Android market works for me so far, in Shanghai. But these still do not work: google voice (complain I have not enabled the account), youtube, twitter … and my company’s web site :)

  36. acala says:

    John,

    I’m a native Chinese, and we all hate the GFW which almost block everything useful!

    However, Chinese local communities are powerful. For example, if you want to download apps freely (even they are paid apps in Android Market), you can go to http://bbs.gfan.com/, register as a member(free), and download any popular apps there. Someone has paid (or cracked) the apps and share them there.

    Forgive us if we don’t respect the copyright stuff – we are in China, a “magical” land.

    Acala

  37. mandy says:

    yea i just bought a motorola flipout (before reading that the market was blocked here in china). I was pretty po’d. I have been able to download apps however from websites and install them to my phone. what the heck is a VPN? and now that you have it working can you get on the market?

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