Android may still be the most popular mobile OS in China, but local e-commerce giant Alibaba Group continues to offer its own alternative, and has just landed its biggest partner yet.
Chinese smartphone maker Meizu will use Alibaba's YunOS mobile operating system to power its own handsets, it announced Tuesday. Previously, Meizu ran a customized version of Android called Flyme OS on its smartphones, but said Alibaba's software could offer better security and performance, including longer battery life.
It's unclear if Meizu will abandon Android, or keep it in use. The company has created a new version of Flyme running on Alibaba's YunOS.
Unveiled over three years ago, YunOS is a Linux-based operating system that Alibaba originally envisioned as a way to promote the company's e-commerce services. The software, however, has struggled to attract better-known hardware vendors. In recent quarters, the operating system has had a market share of less than 1 percent, said Kiranjeet Kaur, an analyst with research firm IDC.
The company's feud with Google may partly explain the slow uptake. In September 2012 the U.S. search giant accused Alibaba's mobile OS of being simply a variant of Android. Alibaba denied the claim, and alleged that Google was restricting its Android partners from developing phones using the YunOS.
In spite of Google's complaints, Alibaba has continued work on the operating system. On Monday, the company unveiled the latest version of YunOS, and stated that the software has also been designed for wearables, tablets and smart TVs. It also released a new YunOS phone built by Philips.
Meizu isn't a top five smartphone vendor in China, but the company's phones are well-known on the local tech scene, and among young consumers in the country. Meizu has been competing hard against Xiaomi, another Chinese android phone maker, and last month announced its newest flagship phone, the MX4, priced at 1799 yuan (US$292).
In partnering with Alibaba, Meizu wanted to create a smartphone that could truly leverage the Internet to pull in users and sell more phones, said Meizu vice president Li Nan during Tuesday's announcement. In China, Alibaba runs Tmall, the largest online retail site in the country.
"This partnership will not only help users, but could also change the industry," Li added.