Alibaba seeks mobile role

16 April 2013

BEIJING: Alibaba Group, China's biggest ecommerce firm, is renewing its efforts to break into the mobile phone market with its own operating system.

The company, best known for its Taobao and Tmall shopping sites, announced it will subsidise handset makers adopting its Alibaba Mobile Operating System (AMOS) and will provide RMB1bn to fund app developers.

The subsidy will take the form of a 1 yuan payment made to handset manufacturers each month for every AMOS handset sold, a payment that will continue until such time as the handset goes out of use.

Six smartphones installed with the operating system have already been released by five local handset vendors: AMOI, G'FIVE, KONKA, Little Pepper, and ZOPO.

This step reflects the company's intention to move into new areas. Wang Jian, Alibaba's chief technology officer, told The Economist, that "mobile is a new game where we don't have the edge yet."

With mobile accounting for around 4% of ecommerce purchases in China, and growing fast, Jack Ma, Alibaba's chief executive, recently shifted a large number of the firm's engineers to its mobile division.

Another sector the group is targeting is finance, where it has for several years made small loans to traders on its websites. The company now plans to expand into personal loans and insurance.

"The people we are focusing on are completely below the radar screen for the big banks," said Joseph Tsai, the group's chief financial officer.

Data sourced from Reuters, PC World, The Economist; additional content by Warc staff