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Alibaba revives its Google-free Android OS

Renames its platform Amos and announces five partners, targeting growing market of low cost Chinese suppliers


Published: 17 April, 2013

READ MORE: China | OS | Handset | Android

Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba has breathed new life into its attempts to establish its own mobile platform, formerly called Aliyun and now renamed Amos. It has announced five new handset partners, and though none is a household name, they indicate how challengers to Android and iOS can target the low cost smartphone makers, which are set to expand rapidly on the back of emerging market growth.

Alibaba had gone rather quiet since Google effectively blocked the launch of its most high profile device - a smartphone from Acer - by saying this broke the terms of Acer's contract with Android's Open Handset Alliance (Alibaba's OS, unlike many of the new browser-oriented platforms, has not yet entirely broken the ties with the Android kernel). However, the ecommerce group has revived its efforts, renaming its OS and announcing the new handset supporters (Konka, Zopo, Amoi, G'Five, and Little Pepper).

Andy Rubin, then head of Android at Google, said that because Alibaba's system uses "the Android runtime, framework and tools", but is not technically compatible with Android, Alibaba should not be allowed to partner with Open Handset Alliance members. This was a significant blow, since there are few handset makers which do not belong to OHA, and over time Alibaba is likely to follow Baidu, Mozilla and others in excising the Google kernel entirely from its platform. For now, it has been cultivating local and secondary vendors, which are set to gain ground as the Chinese and other new smartphone markets expand, benefiting low cost suppliers.

Alibaba also created a new sales channel on its online shopping site dedicated to Amos phones, which, as the US knows from Amazon, is its real killer weapon, especially in China, where Google is restricted and where the government has publicly said it needs a homegrown alternative to reduce Android's power in the mobile market.

Alibaba also says it will achieve its own kickstart by subsidizing its handset partners, with an ongoing fee of CNY1 per month for every Amos device they sell and remains in active use. It is also allocating funds for developers of cloud-based Amos apps, and will lure users with financing plans via its AliFinance subsidiary.

IDC senior analyst Teck-Zhung Wong told TheRegister that Alibaba would continue to struggle to attract major OEMs, but can target the low end, especially in its home market where its channels are most established. He said: "Alibaba has the financial strength to incubate this ecosystem, even if the returns aren't immediate."

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