Telecoms

Getting Googled

Alibaba and Acer in spat with US tech giant

It’s no secret that the late Steve Jobs, former chief executive of Apple, hated Google’s Android operating system.

Even when Jobs was struggling with cancer, he told biographer Walter Isaacson: “Google… ripped off the iPhone. I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product.”

So Jobs might have felt a little schadenfreude on news that Google is now the angry party: accusing China’s Alibaba of ripping off its own Android operating system.

The US search firm and China’s e-commerce giant are locked into a dispute over whether Alibaba’s Aliyun mobile operating system is an Android variant, with the row threatening to delay Alibaba’s effort to broaden its smartphone services in China.

The battle between the two tech firms started in September when Google pressured Acer, the Taiwanese electronics company, to cancel a press showing of a new smartphone that runs on Aliyun OS 2.0. NetEase, a portal, alleges that Google threatened to end its partnership with Acer, which uses Android for 90% of its smartphones, if it went ahead with the launch.

NetEase also reports that Google objected to the Acer device because Aliyun is a “non-compatible” version of Android. But the dispute boils down to Google’s view that Alibaba created Aliyun by taking Android software and making changes to it. Andy Rubin, head of Google’s Android unit, attacked the rival OS on his Google+ social network page stating that: “Aliyun uses the Android runtime, framework and tools.”

Alibaba quickly fired back. John Spelich, a company spokesman, told reporters that “Aliyun is different” from Android.

“Aliyun OS is not part of the Android ecosystem, so of course Aliyun OS is not and does not have to be compatible with Android,” says Spelich, adding that it took more than three years and 1,600 engineers to develop its own operating system.

Google doesn’t see it this way. “Your app store contains Android apps. So there’s really no disputing that Aliyun is based on the Android platform,” Rubin countered.

So is Aliyun a rip-off of Android? Both systems operate Linux software. Google claims Aliyun is a “fork” – built on Android but radically changed, and thus largely incompatible.

Alibaba, meanwhile, claims Aliyun is based on “open source Linux” but refuses to name Android specifically.

But Economic Observer reckons that Alibaba wants to position Aliyun as self-developed technology to appeal to the Chinese government, which has invested heavily in homegrown innovation.

The government could, in effect, mandate the adoption of Aliyun in China and provide the scale to get the technology established.

That may also explain why Google is so anxious to challenge Aliyun, especially while usage remain low (so far there are only a million handsets using the Chinese operating system).

In contrast, Android powers a huge number of China’s smartphones.

Figures from research firm Gartner shows that in the second quarter of this year 80% of the smartphones sold in the Chinese market ran Android – that is to say 30.6 million out of 38.2 million. That means that Android’s China sales are ahead of their share globally, where they made up 65% of shipments in the second quarter.

If companies like Alibaba can get a competitive foothold, Google worries that its own system could lose top spot. Last year, its search competitor Baidu also introduced an Android “fork” – its own operating system, Yi OS. Hence Google’s effort to block others from trying too. And it seems to have worked.

Worried about offending Google, Acer says the release of the new Alibaba phone has been postponed indefinitely…


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