China Launches ‘Independent’ OS For Smartphones, PCs

China mobile phone communication © Norebbo Shutterstock

China OS is a Linux-based OS designed to break foreign dominance

The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) has launched China OS, an  independent operating system intended to compete with the likes of Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows, in a move backed by the Chinese government as well as Taiwanese mobile device maker HTC.

At a Beijing launch event on Wednesday CAS emphasised the security and usability aspects of the the Linux-based software, called China Operating System or COS, alluding to incidents such as the NSA surveillance scandal.

Android-style interface

The software uses an interface similar to that of iOS and Android, and is designed for use on mobile devices as well as television set-top boxes and PCs. It can already run 10,000 applications, according to CAS and its technology partner, Shanghai-based Liantong Network Communication Technology. As a security measure it allows a single app store, unlike Android, which permits users to download software from multiple sources, CAS said.

htc-cosWhile based on Linux code, the OS is not itself open source for security reasons, according to the institute, which claimed all the technology on top of the Linux kernel was developed independently.

“There is a consensus in our field that independent intellectual property rights means the key part of the product is distinct from others,” said CAS research fellow Wu Yanjun in a report by state-owned Global Times.

He said Liantong is backed by a State-run investment corporation in Shanghai with a good industry track record. This operating system may turn out to be the basis of reports from the Wall Street Journal in August that HTC was developing an OS. Liantong’s deputy general manager, Chen Feili, told Chinese communications news site C114 that the OS has been in testing with dominant mobile providers China Mobile and China Telecom for the past three months.

CAS said the new OS would be better adapted for Chinese users in areas such as language input, speech recognition, support and the stability of cloud services, as well as providing better security than rivals. The OS can run Java applications, HTML 5 code and already supports games such as Angry Birds, CAS said.

Chinese Internet users greeted the launch with “almost unanimous” scepticism, with commentators questioning why the government would fund yet another OS with few prospects for success, according to the Global Times report.

The fact that COS has been developed independently would distinguish it from other Chinese OS efforts such as Aliyun OS, developed by Alibaba Group subsidiary AliCloud, which is based on the Android Open Source Project and has been available on devices in China since 2011.

Another new mobile phone OS called 960 OS, unveiled on 9 January by a Shenzhen-based company called Coship Electronics also claims to have independent intellectual property rights. 960 OS is based on Linux and took 15 years to develop, according to a report by the state-run Xinhua news agency.

Other Chinese OS efforts have included the unsuccessful OPhone and Red Flag Linux, from one of the country’s largest Linux vendors.

While assessments of China’s smartphone market vary, a September study from IDC found that Android dominated, with around 90 percent of the mobile OS market in 2013. However, IDC said it sees rivals including Firefox OS, Samsung’s Tizen and Aliyun OS gaining more traction beginning this year, while iPhone avaiolability has improved since China Mobile began offering it.

“It is difficult to displace Android’s dominant position in the Chinese market within a short period of time, but IDC predicts that its share in China’s mobile phone operating system market will reach the peak in 2013, and that the mobile phone vendors and telecom operators will adopt new operating systems with a more open attitude,” said IDC’s James Yan at the time of the report’s publication.

Last year Alibaba said it would continue with Aliyun development in spite of pressure by Google to drop the OS.

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