updated 06:20 pm EST, Mon February 28, 2011
China Unicom tries hand at own custom phone OS
China Unicom on Monday broadcast its plans to develop its own phone OS. Wophone, named after the company's Wo service, would run a custom version of Linux and target both smartphones and tablets. The strategy would help phones get to market faster by being already tailor-made for the Chinese, it said.
Accordingly, the OS already has an early government blessing from both the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the National Development and Reform Commission. Mainland Chinese phone makers Huawei and ZTE are onboard, as are Taiwan's HTC and more remote companies such as Motorola and Samsung.
Wophone's launch would come in spite of China Unicom's own commitment to other platforms. It remains the only carrier selling the iPhone in China and is unique in having access to many of the same Android devices as other countries through its use of the same HSPA and WCDMA 3G technology as much of the world. A custom OS could risk creating a conflict of interest by encouraging it to promote its own OS over others.
The move would also come in spite of historical patterns. China Mobile tried developing its own custom version of Android, OPhone, but has had little impact. It was at first delayed and has mostly been limited to Lenovo.
China Unicom is also acting with little time to spare as competition comes in. Apple has hinted at making a prepay-friendly iPhone that would be targeted at conquering the Chinese market, and domestic companies are still committed to supporting Android through phones such as the ZTE Skate.