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China wary of Android dominance over nation's tech market

Whitepaper from a Chinese regulator suggests authorities want to support a homegrown mobile OS, an expert said

By Michael Kan
March 5, 2013 07:29 AM ET

IDG News Service - China signaled it wants to reduce its dependence on Google's Android OS, alleging that the U.S. company has discriminated against local companies over the use of the mobile operating system.

"Our country's mobile operating system research and development is heavily reliant on Android," according to a whitepaper from a research division of China's tech regulator, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. "Although the Android system currently remains open source, the core technologies and technology road map is strictly controlled by Google."

The comments, published online this month, were reported by local publications on Tuesday.

The whitepaper, which analyzed China's mobile Internet market, did not, however, recommend any specific regulatory actions. But it pointed to challenges with Google's Android OS, which dominates the nation's smartphone market and is increasingly used by domestic tech firms.

Chinese businesses developing mobile operating systems have at times faced "commercial discrimination" because of Google, according to the paper. Google is alleged to have delayed releasing the Android source code or used commercial agreements to restrict a company's devices business. The paper further warned that the core technologies and patents behind smartphones are controlled by European and U.S. companies.

Google, which has at times had a rocky relationship with Chinese authorities, declined to comment. In 2010, the company partially pulled out its business from the country after ongoing tensions with authorities over online censorship and cyberattacks.

It's unclear which Chinese companies faced the alleged discrimination from Google. But last year Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group clashed with the company over its Aliyun OS, a Linux-based operating system, which Google alleged was an Android variant. The dispute led to the cancellation of the launch of an Acer smartphone built with the Aliyun OS.

China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology could not be reached immediately for comment. The whitepaper sends a clear message to China's tech industry that the authorities want to support a homegrown mobile operating system, said Mark Natkin, managing director for Beijing-based Marbridge Consulting.

"I think it's very consistent with China's long-standing policy: It would like to promote domestic technology standards and be less dependent on foreign standards," he added.

The nation applied this policy to its telecommunication networks. In 2009, state-owned carrier China Mobile launched its 3G networks using a homegrown technology, called TD-SCDMA (Time Division Synchronous CDMA). Although the technology has not been adopted widely outside the country, TD-SCDMA is helping to pave the way for greater Chinese development in 4G standards, Natkin said.

"China is very long-term in its approach, and an initiative doesn't have to necessarily bear fruit today," he added.

In the meantime, Chinese handset makers, such as Huawei, ZTE and Lenovo, have used the Android OS to help them sell smartphones and tablets in both China and abroad. In last year's fourth quarter, the companies took the third, fourth and fifth spots among the largest smartphone vendors in the world, according to research firm Canalys.

The government whitepaper said China has already established a "good industry foundation" to develop its own mobile operating systems. Companies such as Huawei, Alibaba Group, and Baidu have made the mobile OS business a key part of their strategies, according to the paper.

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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