Posted in: Android, Mobile phones

Shedding some light on the Google and Acer Aliyun phone fiasco

A situation arose yesterday where Acer’s plans to announce a smartphone in China based on Alibaba’s Aliyun operating systems were brought to a screeching halt when Google threatened to basically kick Acer out of the Open Handset Alliance if it chose to go ahead with the Aliyun phone. There seems to be a lot misinformation about this situation so let’s go through it and see what really happened.

First of all, the Open Handset Alliance is a consortium of 84 companies and was started by Google. Together these companies build and develop what we know as Android. Members get to have access to the full Android experience and use it to their liking as long as the final product is still compatible with the Android ecosystem. You don’t need to be a part of this alliance to use Android, it’s open source after all, but if you’re part of the alliance you have to play by its rules.

Now Acer has been working with Chinese company Alibaba on a smartphone of their own running on the Aliyun operating system. Turns out, Aliyun is nothing but a fork of Android, just like the OS on Amazon’s Kindle Fire. However, unlike Amazon’s version, Aliyun is not compatible with the applications designed for Android, and thus breaks the rules of the Open Handset Alliance.

Now Alibaba can do as it pleases, as it is not part of the OHA. Neither is Amazon, for that matter. But Acer is, so they can’t be seen working on a fork of Android that does not comply with the guidelines of the OHA.

When Google found out about this, it seems they told Acer in no uncertain terms that if Acer continues to work on the Aliyun phone, Google will have to “terminate its Android-related cooperation and other technology licensing”. In other words, kick Acer out of the OHA.

This resulted in Acer having to cancel the Aliyun smartphone launch event, even though journalists from around the world were already on their way to the event in China.

This is the first instance we have seen (the first public one, at least) where Google has used its position as lead developer of Android to put its foot down and decide how the OS it created gets used. Of course, Google’s stance on this is that they are trying to maintain the consistency across devices running the Android source code, something not possible on Aliyun. But then again, Alibaba was never going to market it as Android but as a completely different OS altogether, even though they share the same source code. So it’s curious why Google would be bothered by an OS, which from the start is trying to differentiate itself from Android.

One also cannot completely rule out the possibility that Google might just be trying to stop a competing platform from being born using the only way it can, pressurizing the hardware manufacturer that it works with. Especially since Alibaba has said that they want Aliyun to be the Android of China. And that’s completely possible, considering how big the Alibaba Group is in China.

For what it’s worth, Acer has said that they still want to launch a phone based on Alibaba’s software. It will be interesting to see how they balance their relationship with Google along with a good business opportunity in a rapidly growing market.

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