updated 12:30 pm EDT, Thu July 28, 2011
Alibaba K-Touch Cloud kicks off Aliyun OS
The cellphone field saw the rare instance of a brand new mobile OS Thursday as Alibaba unveiled the first phone based on its own platform. The Tianyu K-Touch Cloud W700 runs Alibaba's own planned cloud OS, Aliyun, and focuses on web and cloud services. It focuses on web elements like e-mail and search but should also support web-based apps and will back up call, photo, and text data in the cloud.
Linux runs underneath the platform and allegedly lets the device runs Android apps, although this hasn't been checked and might not apply to some apps. Most of the W700's features aren't known, though it has 3G, a back camera, and GPS.
Taobao and other physical and online stores in China will have the W700 before the end of July and sell it contract-free for about $416.
Alibaba expects a tablet based on Aliyun by the end of the year and will also have a version of the OS in English for other countries at or near the same time.
Best known as a host for small online shops as well as for Taobao, Alibaba has been keen to diversify away from its established business as well as to improve its stance in mobile. Aliyun in many ways mimics the Google model for Android, where the software is developed independently of the hardware and the emphasis is on driving customers to a service where the real revenue sits.
Phones like the K-Touch Cloud are also an attempt to get a stake in smartphones before it's too late. The Chinese market is still led by basic feature phones, but it's seeing an increasing number of cheap Android phones from the likes of Huawei, ZTE, and some foreign companies. Apple has also been growing quickly and saw its Chinese revenue grow 600 percent in the past year, with the area providing $8.8 billion in the past nine months based mostly on iPhone sales.