According to a person close to the deal, Google's recent $550 million investment in and partnership with JingDong Mall (JD) may pave the way for the search giant's hardware offerings to be sold in China. Specifically, the two companies have reportedly discussed selling Google's popular A.I.-enabled Google Home speakers in the region via JD.com. Historically, the company has had difficulties breaking into the region following a decision nearly a decade ago to take a stand for a free and open internet. The Chinese government has maintained a relatively large degree of control over access to the web and has been heavy-handed with censorship.
Setting that aside, there haven't been too many details provided about the sale of the smart speaker itself. Generally, the Google Home-branded devices ship with Google's own A.I. Assistant inside but it's not clear if that would work in the Chinese market. In fact, Google's services are actually banned throughout the region. That means that even for something as seemingly innocent as Wear OS the company had to enlist help from local service providers to ensure full functionality in place of its own services. It's not necessarily the case that Google's Home line would suffer a similar fate with regard to requiring workarounds or replacement software and services. It's also not clear whether that would even be feasible since Google Assistant is such a central part of the hardware. However, it's not impossible either and Google may be willing to go that far in order to ensure that its other hardware can be sold in the region.
If the sale of Google's smart speakers was a part of partnership negotiations, that would mark the first time those have been allowed to sell in the country. That would not only bring heavy competition for the region's local companies but would further cement Google's foothold in the region, following years of failed attempts to establish one. While there's no way to verify the accuracy of the unnamed source, it also wouldn't be altogether surprising since the search giant has had some success in recent months. Most recently it has managed to release a couple of applications, developer tools for AR, and Tensorflow for A.I. development. Beyond the software, the sale of Google Home might pave the way for other hardware if everything goes smoothly.