Alibaba set to buy into device makers

Alibaba set to buy into device makers

07 JAN 2013

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is set to invest in device makers in order to drive adoption of its Aliyun device operating system, a platform that has already seen it at loggerheads with Google.

According to reports originating from Sohu IT, the company has set aggressive targets – it is looking to offer more than 20 devices running Aliyun during 2013.

In order to do this, it is set to invest in “one or two” handset makers in the country, to spur adoption of its platform.

Aliyun came into the spotlight last year, when Google put pressure on device maker Acer to stop it from offering a device running the OS – including the threat it would withdraw its support for the vendor’s Android products worldwide.

The issue is that while Aliyun is a different platform from Android, it contains some elements of the Google OS – including the Android runtime, framework and tools. In addition, the search giant has said that the Aliyun app store contains Android apps, including pirated Google titles.

ZDNetAsia said that with Google having already exerted pressure on Acer, Alibaba needed to look to other partners to deliver Aliyun devices, leading to discussions about potential investments.

While this will enable the company to bring a number of devices to market, it does mean it will be largely restricted to small manufacturers looking to use a partnership with the e-commerce giant to bolster their position – rather than top-tier vendors with a higher profile among consumers.

For any company with international aspirations, the desire to remain within the Android camp is likely to outweigh the benefits of working with Alibaba. Indeed, the original report notes that Google’s spat with Acer and Alibaba has impacted the attitude of other players toward the platform.

Among the potential partners suggested is a vendor called Lephone, although this is not related to Lenovo, which offers devices using the LePhone brand.

Without the support of a top-tier device maker, the platform is likely to struggle to gain traction in the market, regardless of Alibaba’s ability to market and sell products. Therefore getting devices into the hands of consumers is critical for the platform, in order to prevent it becoming an also-ran.

The platform was first announced in June 2011, alongside a handset manufactured by K-Touch (Tianyu), and home appliance company Haier Group also announced a supporting device in 2012, but on the whole, it has failed to generate momentum.

By the end of May 2012, one million Aliyun devices had been sold in China.

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Steve Costello

Steve works across all of Mobile World Live’s channels and played a lead role in the launch and ongoing success of our apps and devices services. He has been a journalist...More

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