Tencent launches OS for smartphones, wearables

Alex Davies/Wireless Watch

This article originally appeared in Rethink's Wireless Watch

Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings has released a new operating system for smartphones and smartwatches. Called TOS+, the new platform iteration includes voice recognition and mobile payment systems, according to COO Mark Ren, speaking at the Global Mobile Internet Conference in Beijing.

Having unveiled the beta version of TOS+ earlier this year, the new platform is being pushed as the drive into new product areas, with wearables and virtual reality headsets being the first two new markets specified. Ren said that Tencent aims to be a connector, with an open platform to link all people, devices and services – but made it clear that the company wouldn’t be launching any of its own hardware to support the new OS.

China has never been a stronghold for Google, as the majority of Chinese smartphone manufacturers use forked or reskinned versions of Android. Google’s own apps, which typically make up the most compelling features of Android, are almost all prohibited by the Chinese government’s censorship programs – meaning that the incentive for Chinese handsets to remain in a ‘purer’ version of Android is diminished, and Google’s opportunity to generate revenues from its mobile OS is limited.

Some reports note that 90% of Chinese smartphones run some version of Android, but most seem to run a distribution that would be alien to European or American users. Despite being Android underneath, these flavors don’t do much for Google’s brand power in China – much to the company’s dismay.

Some of these Android-based OSs are looking to emulate the master and sign up a partner ecosystem of their own – local news reports name Huawei, Lenovo, Qualcomm and ZTE as interested parties, looking to use TOS+ in future products.

However, most attempts to create a new mobile platform entirely divorced from Android have not got far – for instance, Baidu decided to abandon its homegrown OS and concentrate on its Android derivatives, probably because the ‘Cloud OS’ would have lacked the economics and scalability of a global open source initiative.

Currently, no actual TOS+ products have been announced, but Tencent will hope to leverage its online platforms to promote its OS initiative. Rich feature integration options for the WeChat and QQ and related revenue-sharing features will almost certainly prove the incentives that other companies need to adopt TOS+.

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