In these days of increased activity by the NSA on foreign targets, suspicion looms everywhere you turn. The NSA’s spying is a concern the world over save for some countries like China and Russia which have their own ways of doing things. In China, we are all not new to how government censorship in that country has always been at high levels. It is bound to even get tougher thanks to a project by Chinese researchers working under the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Liantong Network Communications Technology that have developed COS: China Mobile Operating System.
COS is not a new concept. The Wall Street Journal (sorry no links as those were taken down when the ATD team left to start Re/code) reported as early as mid last year that the Chinese government through local companies was working on a similar project and back then the project was said to have the blessings of Taiwanese device maker HTC. The relationship between Taiwan as a country and mainland China has never been cosy and with the company highly regarded as a source of pride in Taiwan (like Nokia to the Finns), that story did not seem to hold back then. Fast forward to this moment and we all know that something was cooking and definitely HTC was in the mix one way or the other. It is business after all. In fact images released to foreign media to showcase the new OS being developed feature HTC devices like the One and the interface quickly reminds you of Sense.
HTC aside, what exactly is COS? It is a mobile operating system based on the Linux kernel that the Chinese government hopes will grant it tighter control over mobile device usage in that country. It is not lost on anyone that the government has never been happy with the penetration of that unique market by platforms dominated by foreign companies i.e. Google, Apple and Microsoft. While it has always asserted its authority in terms of how these popular platforms with foreign roots are utilized and limiting their reach by removing access to things like the Google Play Store, a home-grown platform presents a juicy opportunity for a tightly controlled environment.
COS is said to be open-source and includes support for HTML 5 web apps and games, Java applications and there are news that some popular apps like Cut the Rope and Angry Birds can already be played on devices running the new OS. Carriers like China Mobile, which just entered into a partnership with Apple to provide the iOS-running iPhone 5s to its huge subscriber base, are said to be already in the loop and have been testing phones running COS for the past three months. Besides the smartphone, COS is intended to be the main OS of PCs, tablets and TVs in China.
Apart from what me and you would consider as being a fertile spying ground what else will COS do? The Chinese government is quoted by the New York Times confessing that COS is an ambitious attempt to dominate the smartphone industry in that country. They want every smartphone in China to eventually run on COS. That’s ambitious in every way but not entirely impossible. Android is currently the mobile operating system with the lion’s share of the Chinese market with estimates putting it in the regions of 90% last year. Apple’s iOS is also widely popular in that country as can be attested to by the numerous stories of folks selling body parts in order to afford iDevices. Cost/lack of carrier subsidies is what has pulled Apple’s dominance but that is bound to change with the China Mobile partnership in the long run since current subsidies that stretch to as much as 30 months are still way above what the average guy can afford.