China Unicom to Target Google, Apple
China Unicom Ltd. (NYSE: CHU) is taking on Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) by building its own operating system, "Wophone," designed for smartphones and tablets on its 3G network.
Samsung Corp. , Motorola Mobility LLC , High Tech Computer Corp. (HTC) (Taiwan: 2498), ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763), Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and TCL Mobile Communication Co. Ltd. have all committed to building smartphones for the new platform.
Google has its own Android derivative, Tapas, for the China market, but a rep for China Unicom tells The Wall Street Journal that Wophone will not be based on the open-source platform. Rather, it will feature a Linux core optimized for smartphones and tablets and will expedite time to market for phone makers, the carrier claims. (See OS Watch: RIM Regrets & iPhone Instructions .)
China Unicom also hosts its own mobile app store, WoStore, that it makes available to devices sporting any OS.
Why this matters
Wireless operators building their own OSes, smartphones or both is a trend that is catching on in China and other parts of the world, including with Smart Communications Inc. , the largest wireless operator in The Philippines. China Unicom's much larger competitor, China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE: CHL), launched the Android-based "OPhone" in 2009, but the platform hasn't yet proved popular with consumers. (See OS Watch: LG Gives Android a Dual Core and Smart Success for WAC.)
In China, where most subscribers are on 2G, the operators are exploring this route to lure users to their new, more profitable 3G networks. Symbian Ltd. -based handsets are still the most common in China too, accounting for just over 60 percent of the 102.3 million smartphones in use in China as of the fourth quarter, according to Analysys , but Android is gaining in popularity.
China Unicom may have a tough time competing with Android rather than opting to lean on it for its software stack. Its chances are improved, however, by the fact that 3G smartphones are still a relatively new category in the country. How it differentiates and supports Wophone, as well as how it provides incentive for developers to build for its platform, will weigh heavily on its chances for smartphone success.
Mobile operating systems have become as important as -- if not more important than -- the handsets themselves. Check out our past "OS Watch" features for more on how the market is shaping up.
- OS Watch: Sprint Snags First CDMA WP7 Phone
- OS Watch: Will Nokia Embrace WP7?
- CES 2011: OS Watch Goes Gadgets
- OS Watch: Device Makers Sound Off
- OS Watch: Samsung, King of Androids
- OS Watch: Android's Fragmentation Makes Friends
- OS Watch: Apple Beats RIM, Verbally & Actually
- OS Watch: Android Earns Its Reputation
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile