Phonemakers make Android China-friendly

Mobile phone vendors selling Android smartphones in China replace restricted Google services with local apps and content, to make sure user experience is not compromised.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

Although Google has limited service in China, smartphone makers targeting the market with Android mobile operating system (OS) do not see it as a problem as they customize the devices with with localized content and features.

In September, Alibaba Group's chief strategy officer Zeng Ming said the company hopes to popularize its mobile OS, Aliyun OS, and make it "the Android of China". Zeng added the original Android faces several challenges in China as Google's search, mapping and e-mail functionalities are limited in the country.

Despite the restrictions of Google services in China, Android handsets make up the majority of the country's smartphone market.

Smartphone vendors told ZDNet Asia that they customize Android handsets with local services and apps to make the devices China-friendly.

Chen Wenhui, general manager of the mobile business unit and vice president at Lenovo, said besides Chinese language support, the company's smartphones for the Chinese market has apps and services customized for local users.

"Standard features on all Lenovo smartphones sold in China include popular, local applications such as [microblog] Sina Weibo, [wordprocessor] Kingsoft WPS, navigation, and so on," he said.

Chen added that users in China have access to the Lenovo Application Store which has more than 100,000 additional apps. He said the store is one of China’s most popular application download services, with more than 1 million downloads per day. In contrast, global users purchase and download Android apps through Google Play.

Chen said Lenovo's handsets run on Lenovo Mondrian UI which is a customized version of Android. In the first quarter ended June its fiscal year 2013, Lenovo became the No. 2 smartphone vendor in China, surpassing Nokia and Huawei.

A Samsung spokesperson said Samsung Android phones in China offers "unique user experience as they are customized for Chinese consumers' taste". One example of customization is "integrated application search" and "phonebook browsing", he added.

Instead of Google services such as Search and Maps, Samsung said it developed and integrated Chinese local search and map services to meet consumers' needs in China. Local apps and features such as Baidu search and local companies' navigation apps and maps are provided, the spokesperson added.

Tang Siew Wai, marketing director of Huawei Device for the South Pacific region, said the company works hard to ensure that Huawei Android smartphones sold in China comply with domestic laws and the apps cater to the local flavor of Chinese consumers.

The companies ZDNet Asia spoke with were unable to disclose if customizing the devices cost them more money.

Chen said: "While Lenovo does not discuss specifics regarding production and customization, we are fully committed to offering the best possible user experience at a favorable price for all our customers, both in China and around the world."

Huawei's Tang said the company continues to work to ensure that device pricing will be competitive in the market "as always".

User does not notice limited Google services
At least for one China-based user who spoke with ZDNet Asia, the operating system is not a consideration when purchasing a phone.

"I know how to use a phone but not an Android operating system," said Wang Hua, an English teacher.

Wang currently uses a Xiaomi 1S phone. Xiaomi is a popular Chinese smartphone vendor which runs its phones on a customized Android OS called MIUI.

"I'm using a Xiaomi 1S phone which I bought a month ago. Apart from the phone 'hanging' twice since I bought it, it's pretty good," she said.

"My husband and my colleagues are using HTC. We don't really know which Google services are limited in China. The functionality of our phones for calls, sending text messages, surfing the Internet, taking photos, watching videos and playing games are quite good," she said.

Wang felt that the local smartphone had better usability compared to the iPhone. "I've used an iPhone before. I feel that the screen resolution of the iPhone is better but the Xiaomi is easier to use. For the iPhone, I had to research on how to use it but I could immediately get started with the Xiaomi," she said.

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