China is 'too dependent' on Android: MIIT paper

08 Mar 2013

ITEM: A Chinese government white paper states that the country’s mobile market is “too dependent” on Google’s Android OS for operating-system R&D, which is bad because Google maintains too much control over it and – allegedly – discriminates against local developers.

The white paper [PDF], published by the research arm of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, comes at a time when Android is dominating China’s smartphone scene. The paper says Android accounts for over 72%% of the local smartphone market (citing Q32012 figures from Gartner – year-end figures from IDC put that at around 90%).

China is also the largest Android device market on the planet at 26.5% as of end-2012, according to IDC.

The ministry paper levels a number of criticisms and accusations at Google, reports Caroline Gabriel of Rethink Wireless, from Google’s control over the core Android technology and development roadmap to discriminating against Chinese developers:

It claims this is done by staggering the sharing of code, so that favored partners get first access - an accusation made on a wider scale during the mishandled release of the first tablet-optimized Android version, Honeycomb. This was initially available only to vendors which Google judged able to deliver a high quality of experience.

The report also alleges that Google uses commercial agreements to thwart Chinese companies' attempts at mobile device development.

Just what that means for Android’s prospects in China isn’t clear. Google’s troubled relationship with the Chinese government is reasonably well documented, and China is hardly the only government taking Google to task for lopsided market dominance to the point of possibly running afoul of local competition regulations.

The paper also comes at a time when new mobile operating systems that claim to be more truly open-source than Android are starting to assert themselves, including Firefox, Tizen, Ubuntu and Sailfish – all of which made prominent appearances at last week’s Mobile World Congress, and all of which would like a crack at the China market.

And then, of course – and perhaps more to the point – there are two homegrown OSs vying for a slice of the China smart-device market: Baidu Cloud OS and Alibaba's Aliyun (the former of which, ironically, is based on Android). By perhaps no coincidence, Google drew fire in China last year after Alibaba claimed the company pressured Acer to cancel the launch an Aliyun handset.

Still, the paper reportedly doesn’t recommend any specific action against Google, so it’s difficult to know just what kind of trouble (if any) Google is in.

Duncan Clark, chairman of technology consultancy BDA, says the paper's publication suggests Android may face more regulation to favor local players, according to Reuters.

That said, adds Gabriel of Rethink, the MIIT will have to make sure it doesn’t restrict Android usage to the point that it inconveniences local powerhouses like Huawei Technologies and ZTE, both of whom are pushing aggressively into the smartphone space with Android devices.

Meanwhile, TechCrunch reports, figures from Benedict Evans at Enders Analysis shows that Android is also powering smaller device makers, whose devices collectively accounted for almost 40% of page views on Baidu properties, compared to 22% for Samsung.

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