Alibaba's Aliyun OS to carry on without changes despite feud with Google

At dispute is whether the Aliyun OS is an Android variant
  • Michael Kan (IDG News Service)
  • 18 September, 2012 04:13

Despite a dispute with Google over its Aliyun OS, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group said on Monday it had no plans to make the mobile operating system compatible with the Android ecosystem.

"Aliyun will continue to evolve to meet customer wants and needs. (But) No plans to change as a result of this last week's events," said Alibaba spokesman John Spelich in an email.

Both Google and Alibaba have been locked in a tug-of-war over whether the Aliyun OS is an Android variant or not, with the dispute threatening to set back Alibaba's effort to broaden its smartphone services in China, according to analysts.

Initially sparking the controversy was a new Acer smartphone meant for China that would use the Aliyun OS. Acer abruptly canceled the smartphone's launch last week, with Alibaba blaming it on Google, stating that the search giant had threatened to revoke Acer's Android license if it went ahead and released the handset.

Google later responded, and stated that the Aliyun OS was allegedly derived from Android, but still incompatible with the overall Android ecosystem, including apps. Acer, being a member of the Android promoting Open Handset Alliance, was thus restricted from releasing its new smartphone because members of the group are prohibited from supporting incompatible versions of Android. To resolve the dispute, Google has suggested that Alibaba make its OS compatible with Android.

Acer's cancellation of its smartphone launch last week is probably the first time Google has blocked the release of a mobile phone using another OS, said Teck Zhung Wong, an analyst with research firm IDC.

"It's a blow to Alibaba in their effort to widen their OS," he said. The Aliyun OS, which launched last year, has only two handset backers, both of whom are local Chinese vendors, Haier and Tianyu. "This controversy aside, the Aliyun OS is really a niche ecosystem," he said. "By itself, it was already having difficulty getting handset vendors."

Jessica Kwee, an analyst with research firm Canalys, expects the dispute to force the Aliyun OS to become more focused on attracting smaller Chinese handset makers, given that many of the bigger-name smartphone vendors are already members of Google's Open Handset Alliance.

"Coming from a vendor perspective, for companies like Samsung, HTC, would they really want to give up Android for the Aliyun OS?" she asked rhetorically.

On Monday, Alibaba tried again to distance its Aliyun OS from Android, which the company contends is its own Linux-based mobile operating system, and should not be dubbed as a variant of Android.

While the Aliyun OS uses some Android application framework in its coding, this is merely done to allow the operating system to run third-party Android apps, Alibaba's Spelich said.

Furthermore, the Aliyun OS uses virtual machine and runtime environment software different from Android, and was also designed to run Aliyun's own Web-based apps, he added.

Andy Rubin, head of Google's Android development team, however, views the matter differently and rebutted claims of the operating system's independence from Android this past weekend. In a Google+ post on Sunday, Rubin wrote that the Aliyun OS uses the Android runtime environment, framework and tools in its coding.

"So if you want to benefit from the Android ecosystem, then make the choice to be compatible," Rubin wrote in his posting, which was addressed to Alibaba's Spelich. "Its easy, free, and we'll even help you out.  But if you don't want to be compatible, then don't expect help from OHA members that are all working to support and build a unified Android ecosystem."

Android currently dominates the Chinese smartphone market, with an 81 percent share in the second quarter, according to research firm Canalys.

Mark Natkin, managing director for Beijing-based Marbridge Consulting, said the dispute highlights how Google is still actively searching for opportunities in China's mobile Internet space, despite shutting down its search engine for the country in 2010.

"Google certainly wants whatever applications it can get on the phones in the China market," he said. "And in that respect, Aliyun is competing with it for whatever opportunity it has left there."