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Asia Takes On Android

Robert Clark
News Analysis
Robert Clark

Android's dominance of the handset operating system (OS) market is being challenged on two fronts from Asia-Pacific.

The Google-backed platform powered 80% of all smartphones shipped in Q1, and boasts 1.24 million apps in the Google Play store.

But Samsung, which has become the world's biggest smartphone supplier by deploying Android, is hedging its bets by developing its own multi-device OS, Tizen, designed for smartphones, watches, TVs, and connected cars.

The recent announcement of the first Tizen-powered phone is the latest stage in a slow-burning assault on Google by Samsung. The Samsung Z follows the debut of a series of Tizen-based smart watches.

The aim is to lessen Samsung's dependence on the Android system, which mandates use of Google search and mapping apps. But Samsung is being careful not to directly confront Google: The new phone will initially be launched during the third quarter in Russia, away from the direct gaze of Google and the global media.

It's a slightly awkward sell. If the new device offers "innovation that is both personal and unique" to consumers' needs, as DJ Lee, president of Samsung sales and marketing, suggests, then punters may wonder what it has been selling up to now.

IDC analyst Francisco Jeronimo believes Tizen offers no additional value, and no reason to switch from Android.

Tizen, which is Linux-based like Android, is Samsung's second attempt at an OS. Its first, Bada, has folded into the new platform.

But Samsung bosses aren't the only ones hoping to leverage their hardware dominance to put some space between themselves and Android.

Officials in China, which has some 300 million Android users, are having similar thoughts.

A senior government-affiliated researcher has predicted the country will have its own operating system within "three to five years."

Ni Guangnan, from the China Academy of Engineers, says the reliance on operating systems from US companies is an information security risk for China, and called for the creation of an "indigenous, controllable mobile operating system."

Ni even points to a government ban on Windows 8 as an "opportunity for Chinese OS development."

Authorities have not given a reason for the prohibition on upgrading government computers to the new Windows system, but it is seen widely seen as part of a crackdown on foreign IT suppliers as part of the US-China battle over cyber-security.

However, while Ni said he believed the "sinification" of Android would happen inevitably over the coming years, he did not cite any specific software projects could lead the way to a national OS.

China's attempt at its own version of Linux, a state-owned business called Red Flag, collapsed in February owing staff back pay.

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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User Rank: Light Sabre
6/4/2014 | 6:24:10 PM
When will it cease to matter?
The computational power of chips has been following Moore's Law for a while now, but shouldn't there come a time when most applications don't need to be optimized for the underlying hardware (because human attention just won't notice)? Games like Flappy Bird don't need to be written for a particular OS, but Apple (and others) continue to try to fragment programmers into writing code in particular languages suited for specific hardware. 

If cross platform programming can really be achieved, then it won't really matter what operating systems are used -- only what the app stores will offer. Censorship and content licensing will become the next gatekeepers, not the OS platforms.

I, for one, welcome new mobile OS clones that can compete with iOS/Android/whatever... and hopefully force them all to carry the same features. 
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/4/2014 | 2:19:05 PM
quality of (tech) life
Own OS in three to five years!

No doubt that chinese can do it. They have done the same with Whats App, FaceBook and Twitter. Given the state control on ISPs and state ownership of Telecoms, and a one billion plus population.

However barring any competition, the apps & OS would not be as competitive, so the quality of these softwares available to these chineses people will be relatively inferior and thus the quality of the chinese tech available to the chinese population at large will be less than par.
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