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Android (s goog) and iOS (s aapl) phones may be gaining traction around the world, but after three years of development, Alibaba thinks there’s room in China for another smartphone platform. The company is launching its mobile platform, Aliyun, on the K-Touch W700 handset later this month.
The Aliyun platform focuses on cloud-based, web applications but is also “fully compatible” with Google Android apps, according to a statement the company provided to the Wall Street Journal (s nws). Alibaba will complement each handset with 100 GB of data storage on its AliCloud service.
In any other region of the world, I’d say such a device has no chance. But China’s mobile broadband infrastructure is still developing across the vast region and relatively few are using 3G-capable smartphones. Essentially, the country is ripe for smartphone growth and it shows.
In the first four months of this year, the number of 3G subscribers jumped 44 percent to 67.57 million. That means in a population of more than 1.4 billion people, only a small percentage of the 900 million mobile subscribers are using smartphones. Contrast that with the U.S., where more than half of all handsets now sold are smartphones.
As far as the Aliyun platform and its reliance on the cloud, details are vague. Here’s how the company describes it at a high level:
The cloud OS will feature cloud services including e-mail, Internet search, weather updates and mapping & GPS navigation tools. A distinguishing feature of the cloud OS is its support for web-based apps. These offer users an Internet-like experience and do not require the user to download or install application software on their mobile devices. Cloud OS users can seamlessly synchronize, store and back-up data such as contact information, call logs, text messages, notes and photos to AliCloud’s remote data center, and can also access and update this data across all their PC and mobile devices.
I’m not sure that “support for web-based apps” is a distinguishing feature, as all current platforms have the same support. Screen shots show the user interface to be similar to iOS, but with a hint of webOS (s hpq), so there’s nothing innovative in that respect, either.
Then again, when less than 10 percent of all cellular subscribers are using a 3G handset, maybe innovation isn’t required. But I wonder how dependent upon the cloud Alibaba’s platform actually is.If the 3G infrastructure is still a work-in-progress for many areas across the large Chinese land mass, it could pose a problem for the handset.
We’ll be talking more about the intersection of the cloud and mobile technology at Mobilize, September 26-27.