<IT WORLD> Android alarm bells in China
By Martin J Young
HUA HIN, Thailand - China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has published a lengthy white paper in which it criticized the dominance of Google's Android in its burgeoning smart-phone market. Government researchers argued that China is too reliant on Android while accusing the search giant of using its dominance to discriminate against local companies.
The paper went on to warn that local companies such as Baidu, Huawei, ZTE, and Alibaba should prioritize the development of an independent mobile operating system, rather than depend on Google's technology, which at present powers 86% of China's smartphones.
The report observed that Apple, Google and Microsoft have a huge lead in terms of technical sophistication and own much of the
intellectual property needed to develop a modern mobile operating system. It went on to criticize Google for discriminating against Chinese companies and hindering their research by not sharing code with them in a timely manner.
It is still unclear as to whether the Chinese government will act on the warnings in the report, which did not go as far as to recommend regulatory action. The country, however, is no stranger to the dark cloud of digital nationalism, which has loomed in the past when it frequently blocked access to foreign Internet portals, social networks and set stringent censorship rules to companies wanting to operate there.
In December, China contacted the World Trade Organization and proposed law requiring handset makers ensure preloaded apps and operating-system updates are in accordance with Chinese laws before the phones are sold in China. If passed, it could force companies to help China's government identify users and track their application use.
Google, declining to comment on the paper, has given rise to the concern by throwing its weight around in recent years. In September, it forced the delay of a planned release of an Acer smart-phone that was set to run an Alibaba developed OS called Aliyun. It accused Alibaba of modifying Android and creating a “non-compatible” version.
Yet Google states Android is an open source mobile platform freely available to everyone, and it allows device manufacturers to customize and offer new user experiences, driving innovation and consumer choice. Alibaba denied Google's claims and stated that Aliyun OS is not a part of the Android ecosystem.
The motion appears to be a protectionist one for Chinese businesses; it is not alone in the adoption of such practices, as many other countries are also looking for less dependence on foreign imports and tech. It is alone however at the top of the pile for Internet censorship and the development of ever-more sophisticated methods of monitoring its population. Smartphone operating systems could well be the government's latest weapon; it just needs to get Google off the table first.
Software giant Microsoft was slammed with a huge fine by the European Union this week for failing on its promise to offer Windows users an alternative web browser. The US$732 million penalty handed down by the European Commission for a violation of a voluntary antitrust pact was spotted and raised by rivals Google and Opera.
A decade-long battle with Europe has already stung Microsoft for over $2 billion in fines, and this latest one will hurt the company's reputation as well as its bottom line. Microsoft has been fined by the European Commission more than any other company.
The company struck a deal with the European regulators in 2009 to address long-running concerns related to the way Internet Explorer (IE) was bundled with Windows, which at the time had a 90% market share in Europe. A choice screen offering alternative browsers such as Firefox or Chrome was promised and implemented but was removed in 2011 when IE's market share began to slide. The removal, according to Microsoft, was unintentional and blamed on a technical error.
Google may have got the upper hand on rivals in this instance but it is also due for investigation for muscling out rivals and manipulating search results in favor of its own services.
A blockbuster event has been scheduled for next week by electronics giant Samsung to unveil the much anticipated Galaxy S4 smart-phone. No specific details are available for the latest device, but a few have been leaked, including a smart-scroll function that tracks eye movements allowing users to scroll pages without using their fingers.
It is likely to be powered by Android Jellybean, 4.2.1, have an 8 core processor and 2 gigabytes of memory - and look nothing like an iPhone. Leaked screenshots of the unit boast a 5-inch screen, full 1920 x 1080p HD resolution and a 13-megapixel camera. Rivals will be wasting no time developing competing devices to the S4, which should be on the shelves in April.
Martin J Young is an Asia Times Online correspondent based in Thailand.
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