Myanmar gets a taste of Chocolate Factory as Google search lands

Play app store is also partially unblocked ahead of Eric Schmidt's visit


Myanmar’s gradual re-integration with the rest of the world has taken another step forward after Google partially unblocked its Play app store and switched on a .mm search engine for the region, ahead of a visit by Chairperson Eric Schmidt.

The executive chairman is set to round off a whistlestop tour of India with a visit to the reclusive Asian state this week, most likely later today.

In what is unlikely to be a coincidence, google.com.mm became available yesterday and the official Android app store, which had been blocked due to international sanctions, was partially available according to users in the country, although still not allowing downloads at the time of writing.

There are obvious commercial reasons for Schmidt visiting Myanmar. His vist to Axis of Evil state North Korea last month seems to have resulted in a relaxing of internet regulations for foreigners there.

Myanmar is a huge untapped market for ICT firms. In January it announced that two telecoms licenses up for grabs would be open to foreign providers, and analyst IDC predicted 15 per cent growth in IT spending last year with the market reaching $268.45m (£172.9m) by 2016.

Cisco is already jostling for a presence in the once-isolated nation, and Google would obviously like first mover advantage too. It’ll be interesting to see whether Chinese rival Baidu will make similar overtures in the near future.

Rights group Reporters Without Borders was finally taken off a blacklist after quarter of a century and allowed to visit Myanmar in December 2012 as part of the easing of media restrictions.

In a report on the country in the same month, the group remained cautiously optimistic of a loosening of internet regulations, claiming the following:

Public internet access points, which had already become numerous in recent years, no longer seem to be controlled by the authorities. Asked about this, internet café owners said they were not getting police visits and no longer needed to keep logs of the computers used by clients. Draconian regulations such as a ban on external flash drives are still officially in place but no longer enforced and more and more people are freely surfing the internet in public places.

The Chocolate Factory is remaining tight-lipped on its plans there, but will surely be rubbing its hands together at the thought of a potential 50 million-strong mobile user base to push its online services to.

Quartz is claiming from sources in the company that the web giant will also launch Analytics and other business services like online Docs “soon”.

However, to gain any traction in the country, it’ll need to wait for significant telecoms infrastructure to go in – at present internet penetration is thought to be as low as one per cent. ®

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