Alibaba looks to rural China to popularize its mobile OS

Alibaba's YunOS is still struggling to become mainstream in China

E-commerce giant Alibaba Group hasn't given up on its mobile OS, and is taking the software to China's rural markets through a series of low-cost phones.

The company has partnered with mobile carrier China Telecom to sell the YunOS handsets. The eight phones will be built by lesser-known Chinese brands, and will range from 299 yuan (US$49) to 699 yuan.

Although Alibaba has its own Android apps that connect to its popular e-commerce stores, the Linux-based YunOS comes with a whole suite of company-developed services.

The software, however, hasn't gained much share in the market. In 2012, Google claimed it was a variant of its Android OS, sparking a clash that threatened to derail Alibaba's effort to popularize the mobile OS.

In China, Android dominates the smartphone landscape, but that hasn't stopped Alibaba from trying to promote its own software. Even as bigger smartphone brands have yet to adopt the YunOS, Alibaba has managed to partner with smaller Chinese vendors to develop phones for it.

The payoff could be huge. Increasingly, more Chinese users are relying on their phones to buy goods online, and Alibaba itself has over 265 million mobile active users.

By selling low-cost phones, the company is hoping to entice more Chinese rural residents to shop online, at a time when many of these users have limited access to the Internet. Given their lower education levels, many of these users have no need to go online, according to China's Internet Network Information Center.

Selling the phones might also boost the YunOS's market share, but probably only in the short-term, said Nicole Peng, an analyst with research firm Canalys.

These rural users have few expectations from these phones, and probably won't notice the difference between Android and Alibaba's software, she added. None of these phones are built by well-known brands.

"It's difficult to envision the consumers having any high loyalty to these brands," Peng said. "The next time, when they buy a phone, will they pick a YunOS phone? That's more important."

Earlier this year, Alibaba invested in Meizu, a Chinese smartphone vendor better known in the country. As part of the investment, Meizu will integrate its phones with YunOS.

"I think the Meizu partnership is a good start," Peng said. Alibaba's goal over the long-term should be to cultivate a local Chinese smartphone brand, and hope it can grow large over the next few years, she added.

A case in point is Xiaomi, a Chinese vendor that last year toppled Samsung to become the country's largest smartphone vendor. Xiaomi is now working to expand globally.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags consumer electronicsAlibaba GroupMobile OSessmartphonesmobile

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Michael Kan

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Father’s Day Gift Guide

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Armand Abogado

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

Wireless printing from my iPhone was also a handy feature, the whole experience was quick and seamless with no setup requirements - accessed through the default iOS printing menu options.

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?