Alibaba to launch mobile OS

E-commerce giant will compete with Apple, Microsoft and Google

BEIJING – Alibaba Group Holding Ltd will launch its own mobile operating system (OS) before the end of August, with the cell phone maker Beijing Tianyu Communication Equipment among the first vendors to adopt the new system, a source close to Alibaba told China Daily.

The move will see the Chinese e-commerce giant competing head-to-head with Google Inc, Apple Inc and Microsoft Corp in the world’s biggest cell-phone market.

Alibaba’s OS, which will offer”cloud-based” services that will enable applications running on remote servers, will be integrated with Internet browser software, language input methods and online mapping services developed by the company, according to the source.

The system, although different from any OS currently available, will also be compatible with Android-based applications, the person said.

Launching a mobile OS is the latest move in Alibaba’s “going mobile” strategy as increasing numbers of Internet users spend more time surfing the net with mobile devices.

Other companies, including Tencent Holdings Ltd and Baidu Inc, have expressed their intention to develop their own mobile OS, or cell phones with their own applications pre-installed.

Since last year, Alibaba has recruited a large number of new cell-phone software engineers and currently employs a team of more than 100 developing mobile applications.

A spokesperson for Alibaba declined to comment on the new OS.

Lu Libin, an analyst at the Beijing-based research firm Analysys International, said Alibaba’s move to develop its own operating system reflects the increasing role of mobile devices in the Internet market.

However, he also said Alibaba’s new system may appeal only to people who use the company’s existing services, such as Alipay, and Taobao Mall.

“Developing a successful mobile operating system needs great resources and it needs to establish a very close relationship with partners, such as cell-phone component suppliers and developers,” said Lu.

He added that Alibaba’s own OS, if launched, may find it difficult to attract a wide user base in China.

According to figures from Analysys International, Nokia Corp’s Symbian is the most common OS for smartphones in China, accounting for market share of 59.8 percent in the first quarter of this year.

Over the same period, Microsoft’s Windows Mobile had a share of 11.8 percent, followed by 11.1 percent for Android and 6.1 percent for Apple’s iPhone. Lu estimated that smartphones will account for more than half of China’s cell-phone market by 2013, with Android, Symbian and Windows Phone becoming the major adopted cell-phone operating systems.

Source: China Daily

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