The Next Big Thing

Tencent unveils smartphone and 'internet of things' OS in challenge to Xiaomi, Alibaba

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 April, 2015, 10:51am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 April, 2015, 10:51am

Tencent, maker of China's most popular messaging app, WeChat, has unveiled its own Android-based operating system for smartphones and smart devices.

TOS+ was unveiled on Tuesday at the Global Mobile Internet Conference (GMIC) in Beijing by Tencent chief operating officer Mark Ren Yuxin. Ren said the software includes built-in voice recognition and payment systems.

The move comes as Tencent faces increasing pressure from smart device maker Xiaomi, whose own Android-based operating system MIUI claims more than 100 million users worldwide, and Alibaba, which recently launched YunOS as it continues to expand into smart devices and home automation.

"What Tencent will be in the future is a connector," Ren said. "We want to make an open platform to connect all people, devices and services."

More than nine out of 10 smartphones in China use Android. According to Bloomberg, TOS+ will build on Tencent's strengths in online gaming by supporting video game consoles, smart televisions, and smart glasses, including virtual reality devices.

"We want to inject more content into smart hardware systems and have connectivity across different terminals," said Zhong Xiangping, head of TOS+.

Both Alibaba and Xiaomi have expanded from their respective bases in e-commerce and smartphones into the so-called 'internet of things', connected smart devices that can be automated and/or track user information such as health and fitness levels. Last month, Xiaomi released a smart home scale and power strip, as well as an update to its line of smart televisions.

YunOS will also be used in future Meizu smartphones. Alibaba invested US$590 million in the Zhuhai-based phone maker in February.

While it did not reveal any manufacturing partners, Tencent said its new operating system would be free for third-party companies to use.

Tencent faces an uphill battle to making its new platform a success. Rival Baidu closed down its own Android-based operating system last month after it failed to catch on, though its recent purchase of software developer Dianxin indicates that it still has ambitions in that area.