China Unicom delays Android launches amid Google row
Published: 18 January, 2010
China is not turning out to be the slam dunk Google had hoped for Android. Even before the search giant got into its current disputes with China over censorship claims, China Mobile had broadened its Android-centric software strategy to embrace Symbian too. Now China Unicom, the W-CDMA operator, has "indefinitely delayed" launching its first Android phones, which were due to appear this Wednesday.
This will be a setback for Motorola and Samsung, which were supplying Unicom's first Android smartphones - the debut devices were to have been the Samsung GT-i6500U and Motorola XT701. Both vendors are strong in China and Motorola, in particular, had hoped to use the Google OS to gain additional market share. It has launched two models for the market, at least one supporting Mobile's TD-SCDMA network, which is still running behind the other 3G standards in terms of device availability.
Unicom's statements have been mixed on the reasons for its launch postponement. Initially it directly blamed Google's threatened exit from China, though this need not affect sales by third party Android licensees such as Motorola. This is especially true as, like Mobile, Unicom has created its own overlay user interface for Android, called Uphone, which does not have a strong Google look and feel, and does not need to link to Google apps from the homescreen. Indeed, it is very different from vanilla Android, incorporating elements of Unicom's own UniPlus OS. This has pointed to the dangers of fragmentation in the platform, since Uphone apps will not be transferable to other Android variants such as Mobile's Ophone.
In a later statement, Unicom said it was delaying the phones indefinitely because of debugging problems. However, most see the Google row as the real reason, and this could strengthen Symbian in the Chinese market. Mobile has already joined the Symbian Foundation and is working very closely with its leading light, Nokia, on new handsets. Now sources say Unicom is likely to include Symbian apps in its upcoming Unistore, which was originally to have focused only on Android and UniPlus.
The iPhone 3G and 3GS, which are being sold by Unicom, could also be beneficiaries of the temporary (at least) reduction in smartphone competition at the carrier. Unicom says it has sold over 100,000 iPhones since launching the devices on October 30.