March 5, 2013 1:33 pm

China report warns on Google dominance

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A Chinese government think-tank has warned that the country’s smartphone industry is over-reliant on Google’s Android mobile operating system and accused the US company of discriminating against local companies.

“Our country’s research and development of mobile operating systems is over-dependent on Android,” said the China Academy of Telecommunication Research in a report.

The comment echoes tensions that the growing dominance of Android has triggered among global mobile operators, who at last month’s Mobile World Congress trade show rallied behind a new mobile operating system from Mozilla Firefox in an effort to erode Apple and Google’s smartphone supremacy.

“This is not just a China problem – it is an issue that is surfacing around the world in the face of Android’s dominance,” said Duncan Clark, chairman of BDA, a Beijing-based technology consultancy.

The Chinese think-tank said that while Android was an open system, “its core technology and technology roadmap are strictly controlled by Google and our [operating systems] development companies often face commercial discrimination, delays in sharing codes and restrictions on device makers through commercial agreements”.

The observations by the institute under the Ministry for Industry and Information Technology, China’s telecoms industry regulator, are also an expression of long-held frustrations of the country’s policymakers at domestic companies’ lack of power in the global technology value chain.

In China, which overtook the US as the world’s largest smartphone market by shipments last year, Android’s market share has ballooned from just 0.6 per cent in 2009 to 86.4 per cent last year, according to the China Academy of Telecommunication Research.

A host of Chinese companies including e-commerce group Alibaba, online search firm Baidu and device maker Xiaomi, have launched their own mobile operating systems, but they are little more than customised versions of Android.

The planned joint launch last year of a smartphone by Alibaba and Acer, the Taiwanese PC vendor, was called off. Alibaba executives said at the time Google had put pressure on Acer.

Analysts said Google might have been concerned that Alibaba was trying to use basic Android technology and create a competitor system out of it.

The think-tank’s white paper lamented that Chinese developers were starting from too low a technology level, too late, had too small and weak an ecosystem and struggled to get their operating systems adopted by device makers.

The complaints by a body closely affiliated with a policymaker and regulator could raise worries that Google, which almost completely retreated from the Chinese search market in a high-profile standoff over censorship and hacking in 2010, could face new trouble in China.

However, observers believe that there is little left for Beijing to do. Applications that could help Google drive traffic such as its search engine, its map app and its gmail app are already absent from Android devices sold through official channels in China, which come with rival domestic apps instead.

Google could not be reached for comment.

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