Alibaba LogoThe mobile platform wars are heating up. And if it's not one platform outdoing the other in terms of the ecosystem size, it's one platform challenging others in terms of legalities. Amid the flurry of activity, another party wants to join the fray, as China's Alibaba (news, site) unveils its own Aliyun OS mobile operating system.

Granted, most -- if not all -- smartphone and tablet hardware today are manufactured in China, but Chinese firms want to have their say on how the software is designed. E-commerce giant Alibaba has therefore announced the launch of its own mobile operating system, dubbed Aliyun OS.

Alibaba Aliyun OS smartphone
Alibaba's K-Touch Cloud-Smart Phone W700 will run Aliyun OS and will compete directly with the iPhone and Android smartphones.

Like Android, Aliyun OS is a Linux derivative, designed for use on smartphones and mobile devices. The mobile operating system can actually run Android applications, as they share the same Linux underpinnings. However, Aliyun can also run web applications built with HTML5 or JavaScript. This way, third-party developers can deliver content and applications more easily, without the need to go through a centralized marketplace.

What's the Business Model?

Aliyun was actually designed to promote Alibaba's own online marketplace. However, there's no stopping other businesses from building their apps on the platform. This brings about a handful of opportunities, considering China's billion-strong mobile userbase (about 280 million of whom are smartphone users). "The business model on the Web is already established," Wang Jian, Alibaba Cloud Computing says. "If you can bring the Web on to the phone, you can basically bring that business model on to the phone."

Aliyun OS comes shipped with 20 cloud-based applications that focus on the Alibaba online marketplace. Native applications include a search client, barcode scanner for product search, and group-buying discounts. The OS also comes with 100 GB of cloud storage, where users can save photos, documents, lists and other files.

Where Will Aliyun OS Run?

Alibaba has already contracted manufacturer Tianyu for the manufacture of smartphones based on the OS. A tablet computer running Aliyun is also in the works. For now, Tianyu's smartphone, called the K-Touch Cloud-Smartphone W700 will come with a dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor running at 1 GHz and a 3.8-inch capacitive touchscreen. Price has been announced at 2,680 Yuan or about US$ 416. Alibaba is not limiting Aliyun OS to its own brand, though. The firmware is being updated to support other languages, including English, which means Tianyu -- or other manufacturers -- can soon produce Aliyun smartphones and tablets for other markets.

With Google's Android and Apple iOS already being popular smartphone and tablet platforms in China, is there space for another competitor? Alibaba believes they can compete based on the quality of the "local experience," as Wang says. "As long as we have a way to bring the Web services easily, that basically means you can provide a very local experience and service."