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A made-in-China operating system rises to take on Android and iOS

COS, short for China Operating System, is government-backed and designed to appeal to the patriotic consumer

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 January, 2014, 11:22am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 January, 2014, 12:08pm

In an effort to compete with Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS, China has unveiled a mobile operating system of its own, simply dubbed COS – China Operating System.  

Designed for use on mobile phones and tablets in the mainland, COS is a government-backed operating system based on Linux code that has been developed by technology company Shanghai Liantong and the Institute of Software at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Unveiled at a launch event on January 15, COS has been aggressively promoted as a homegrown product that can directly compete with the American-made operating systems currently used by the vast majority of Chinese smart phone and tablet consumers.

With its own version of an app store and cloud-based computing services, COS promises to do everything that Android and iOS already offer, but with a made-in-China edge. A promotional video for the new software plays up this patriotic angle, portraying it as the latest in a long list of domestic accomplishments, including the creation of Chinese characters and the invention of moveable type.

Video: The China Operating System

“2014 will be a transition year for Chinese smart devices,” a press release from the COS launch event reads. “COS will offer multiple advantages for local users by offering a more China-oriented operating experience, a secure environment and a means for technological collaborations with other Chinese companies.”

The “multiple advantages” of COS include improved Chinese language input and voice recognition as well as a streamlined interface that allows faster access and integration with commonly used Chinese websites such as Sina Weibo and Baidu.

Since news of the operating system first broke, there has been no official word on when China’s mobile device manufacturers will adopt it for mainstream use.

Speculation and debate about the necessity and value of COS have hit the internet. A CCTV report on the operating system attracted nearly eight thousand comments on Sina Weibo, and many members of China’s online community have blasted the software’s Android-like appearance and Linux origins, pointing out that “COS should stand for Copy Other Systems.”

“[COS] is actually based on a modified version of Linux code, and they dare to boast that it’s China’s first completely domestic operating system?” one microblogger wrote. “Shameless… The user interface is also ugly and [similar to] Android.”

Others have taken a more optimistic “wait and see” approach to the software, despite questioning its marketing campaign.

“COS may end up a solid operating system,” another commentator wrote. “The problem lies in how they’re promoting it. Playing up the ethnic card won’t help this software’s chances if it [fails]. Commercial activity is commercial activity, patriotism has no place here.”

This is not the first instance of China dabbling in production of a domestic operating system. In 2009, state-owned telecommunications company China Mobile unveiled a modified version of Android called OPhone which sputtered and disappeared a year later.

In 2013, Wang Jianzhou, former chairman of China Mobile, wrote an article where he reiterated the necessity for a homegrown Chinese operating system, arguing that Chinese companies “could not always be… outsider[s]” and needed to innovate in order to make further gains in the mobile phone industry.

Currently, smart phones and tablets made by Apple, Samsung and Xiaomi dominate the Chinese marketplace, according to a 2013 survey by consumer insight company Kantar Worldpanel. All Apple products utilise the company’s iOS operating system, which had an estimated 60 million users in China at the beginning of last year. Samsung and Xiaomi both run on Android, which boasts over 140 million users in the mainland.

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