Chinese handset maker ZTE teams up with Mozilla on mobile OS to challenge Android

Chinese handset maker ZTE teams up with Mozilla on mobile OS to challenge Android

Android has risen to the top of the pack, but smartphone makers are becoming increasingly skittish about relying solely on Google’s mobile OS for their devices. ZTE, China’s second-largest marker of telecom equipment, announced a partnership with open source foundation Mozilla to create their own operating system, Bloomberg reports.

The duo’s plans are at an advanced stage, as ZTE executive vice president He Shiyou revealed that the project is set for a release next quarter. Devices with the OS could arrive as soon as early 2013. The company is already in discussions with international carriers about upcoming smartphones powered by the OS.

“We will not rely on only one operating system,” he said. Bloomberg noted that 90 percent of ZTE’s phones are based on Android at present.

ZTE’s announcement comes while Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba is in the midst of public spat with Google over its own Aliyun operating system. Alibaba CTO Wang Jian published an open letter earlier this week accusing Google of co-opting the open source Android project soley for its own benefit. The issue came to a head after Google interfered with a joint smartphone launch planned by Acer and Alibaba.

Not everyone is optimistic about ZTE’s prospects. Analyst Pierre Ferragu told the news agency that its strategy is “very unrealistic”:

“Operating systems follow winner-take-all rules. How can an operating system limited to a small, low-end manufacturer gain traction ever? It will most likely play against ZTE as consumers want Android, or at best be a non-event if they continue to do Android and Windows at the same time.”

ZTE is not particularly well-known to consumers, but it has shot up the ranks of manufacturers with high volumes of its budget handsets, most of which have taken full advantage of Google’s operating system in recent years. According to second quarter market share numbers from Strategy Analytics, ZTE was the fourth-largest global handset maker with shipments of 19.6 million units. IDC recently reported that ZTE had climbed to third place within China.

Huawei, one of ZTE’s main rivals, had previously been rumored to be working on its own OS, but the company has denied having any such plan.

Growing legal troubles that Android handset makers may also have led ZTE to build its own operating system. After Apple struck a legal win against HTC with the US International Trade Commission, reports emerged that ZTE and Huawei were looking into other options, including Windows Phone. Microsoft’s mobile OS, however, has not proved to be a cheap alternative for ZTE, as an executive with the company revealed in January that it pays Microsoft between $20-30 per Windows Phone that it sells.

Image credit: Feng Li / Getty Images

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