China Mobile seeks Android apps for its Ophone

The head of China Mobile's research center on Wednesday urged mobile application developers in Taipei who work on Android apps to tweak and sell them to China Mobile's Ophone users as well.

China Mobile developed its own mobile operating system, OMS (Open Mobile System), and last year branded phones that use it, Ophones. OMS is based on Android but China Mobile tweaked the software to localize it to China, adding a number of APIs (application programming interfaces), said Bill Huang, general manager of the China Mobile Research Institute, including one to allow Ophones to work with mobile Web sites built on WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) technology, which remains very popular in China and essential for mobile phone users.

"If you develop Android apps, you can develop OMS apps," Huang said during a speech in Taipei. China Mobile offers a software development kit (SDK) to help developers with the aspects of OMS that are different from Android, a mobile phone operating system and other software developed by Google. The software is based on Linux, which leaves it open to being changed and tailored to suit specific needs.

China Mobile provides software applications for Ophones and other devices on its Mobile Market Web site. The site says there are around 11,500 apps available, while the company's 2009 financial report says downloads surpassed 2 million. Mobile Market offers apps for a range of OSes, not just OMS.

Huang said around 600 apps have been developed specifically for Ophones. China Mobile's huge customer base, 532.9 million subscribers as of the end of February, is one reason developers are positive on the Ophone, which launched late last year. The software developer network for the Ophone numbers 430,000, Huang said, while the SDK has been downloaded over 260,000 times.

There are not many Ophones currently available. Last year, a total of nine Ophones were developed, including ones from Lenovo, LG Electronics and Dell. Only three of those handsets work on China Mobile's TD-SCDMA network (Time-Division Synchronous Code Division Multiple Access), a 3G technology created largely in China to reduce the nation's reliance on foreign technologies.

This year, Huang predicts 35 new Ophones will be released from a range of companies, including Samsung Electronics and Asustek Computer, and around 20 of those devices will be made for use on the TD-SCDMA network. China Mobile is the only company in China that uses TD-SCDMA technology.

China Mobile has been actively working with universities to promote OMS application development, Huang said. The China Mobile executive attended the mobile application development conference, sponsored by partner Far EasTone Telecommunications, as part of his trip to Taiwan.

(Owen Fletcher in Beijing contributed to this report)

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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