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Mobile Operating Systems In China – Part 1

The sheer number of Chinese citizens is staggering, so it is fitting that the types of operating systems on their mobile phones be just as staggering.  The following will highlight the most popular of those operating systems.

Today, we are going to take a brief look at some of the mobile operating systems available to Chinese consumers on their smart phones.  This is not an in-depth analysis of each OS.  This article and its follow up article are meant to bring awareness to what is out there currently, since, depending on your involvement within the industry here, you may not have heard of some of the more local varieties.


Apple's iOS


Developer: Apple
Initial Release: June 29, 2007
Type: Unix-Based OS

The prodigy child that started the revolution.  iOS is a Unix-based Kernel that is designed to only play nice with Apple Products.  It currently in its 4th rendition, with official release of version 5.0 rumored to be right around the corner.  I have had a chance to play with iOS ver. 5 and it is definintely an upgrade over the former.  It will introduce such things as wireless updating, Twitter integration into the OS’s GUI, free inter Apple text messaging akin to Blackberry Messenger, and a form a widgets.

The biggest addition is iCloud which will back up practically everything on your phone to Apple’s cloud network. While iOS looks visually much the same, just like its OS X cousin, it has changed dramatically over the years in its abilities.  Though some may offer that it has not kept stride a with some of the compeition after it jumped out to its dominate position, whatever your view point, you cannot deny that it is the model by which every other mobile OS will be judged.

Android OS

Google's Android OS


Developer: Google
Initial Release: October 21, 2008
Type: Linux-Based OS

If Apple’s iOS is the Empire, Google’s Android OS is the Rebel Alliance.  And much like the organization of Star Wars fiction, any and all that want to take on iOS are welcome to fight their war under Android’s banner.  Google purchased a company called Android back in 2005.  It had been founded in 2003 by Andy Rubin, Rich Miner, Chris White, and Nick Sears.  As the story that same year Andy ran out of money only to be saved by an envelope containing $10,000 from Steve Perlman, a chronic inventor.  Perlman refused a stake in the company.  Regardless, Andy and company would go on to develop what is currently the world’s most popular mobile OS on smart phones with a share estimated at over 60%.

Part of what has helped Android take off is that is open source and Linux-kernel based.  This allows manufacturers to take Android and modify it to match their hardware’s configuration.   So, unlike iOS, you can get Android on a multitude of hardware manufacture’s phones such as HTC, Samsung, LG, etc. making it the the “Windows” of the mobile world in a way.


Speaking of variations, lets run through some of the heavier modifications vying for dominance in the Chinese market.

Tapas OS

Dianxin's Tapas OS


Developer: Dianxin
Initial Release: October 2010
Type: Modified Android OS

While I’m unsure if the folks at Dianxin were huge fans of Tapas or just thought the name sounded cool, it is one of the more solid Android OS modifications targeted at the Chinese market.  It is a product of Kai-fu Lee’s Innovation Works, an incubator set up by the angel investor to house some of his favorite picks.  In fact, Dianxin was the first of his incubated projects to recieve VC funding (10 Million from GRS Ventures).

It has since left that sheltered home and ventured out on its own. Currently it is believed to have licensed its OS to be used on products from at least 7 manufacturers including Sharp, Acer, Huawei, K-Touch and Changhong.   Whether Tapas takes hold of a sizable market share or not remains to be seen, but it is considered one of the heavyweights in the fight.


Xiaomi's MIUI OS


Developer: Xiaomi
Initial Release: 2010
Type: Modified Android OS

The other heavyweight is MIUI.  A product of Beijing super angel and GWC Chairman, Lei Jun, the OS is the Android version of iOS – seriously, it is suppose to look and function like iOS.  The OS is already available on its own and is quite popular with over 500,000 users currently. It does contain modifications that add to the base Android OS beyond just looks such as a smart-dialer.  However, the interesting thing is that soon it will be bundled on Lei Jun’s own phone, the Xiaomi Phone.  We are still waiting at mobiSights to get our hands on the new Xiaomi phone for testing, we can tell you that, at least on paper, it has some impressive specs.

While this may seem like a typical Chinese “clone” maneuver, understand that in China, Apple holds a god-like sway over the consumer market.  Not because Apple has a superior product in your typical Chinese consumer’s mind, but because of the status symbol it carries.  Chinese are currently very much in love with “status symbols” and Lei Jun is trying to capitalize off that love.  To that end, he hopes to bring Apple-like product to a larger portion of the consumer base.  Pricing the phone at 1999RMB (typical iPhone prices are around 4500RMB), he hopes to tap into those consumers in China who either can’t afford an iPhone or are more price sensitive.  Sure, your phone isn’t an Apple, but if it talks like one (sorta), walks like one(sorta), and has better specs(presumably), shouldn’t that be good enough?  Brilliant maneuver or doomed failure, we’ll have to wait and see.

For Next Time

We’ve just seen some of the stronger players in the China market this time, and next time around we’ll take a look at some of the weaker/smaller/new players.  We’ll focus on Symbian, Windows Mobile/7, Aliyun from Alibaba, WoPhone from China Unicom, and some of the smaller variations of Android out there in the Middle Kingdom.


In China – Apple is hot, Android is everywhere,  “Tapas” is more than just something to eat, and China is hip enough to create an iOS/Android mashup and call it MIUI.

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  1. […] Xiaomi phone uses MIUI, a modified version of the Android OS.  Built to resemble iOS in some ways, it did make my initial […]

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