Tencent Challenges Google, Alibaba With Own Smartphone Software

Tencent Chairman Ma Huateng
Ma Huateng, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Tencent Holdings Ltd., speaks during a news conference in Hong Kong on March 18. Photographer: Jerome Favre/Bloomberg

Tencent Holdings Ltd. released an operating system for smartphones and smartwatches Tuesday as it tries to win more of the 557 million Chinese accessing the Internet through mobile devices.

The software, called TOS+, provides voice recognition and includes payment systems, Chief Operating Officer Mark Ren said during the Global Mobile Internet Conference in Beijing.

Tencent follows domestic rival Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. in creating its own operating system for a country where more than nine out of 10 smartphones use Google Inc.’s Android. TOS+ seeks to tap Tencent’s stronghold in online gaming by including virtual reality and supporting play on televisions.

“What Tencent will be in the future is a connector,” Ren said. “We want to make an open platform to connect all people, devices and services.”

The Shenzhen-based company, which owns stakes in Activision Blizzard Inc. and Riot Games Inc., will work with partners to integrate the software into devices including smart glasses, Ren said.

Tencent is leveraging its ownership of China’s two most-popular instant messaging applications -- WeChat and QQ -- to boost its efforts against Android. Google’s software accounted for 78 percent of the global industry in 2013, followed by Apple Inc.’s 16 percent, according to Gartner Inc.

WeChat and QQ have more than 1 billion users combined, and Chairman Ma Huateng is finding new ways to make money through advertising, payment services and partnerships with Alibaba shopping competitor JD.com Inc.

Asia’s largest Internet company, Alibaba, also developed its own operating system, called YunOS. The company plans to have it installed on tens of millions of smartphones in the long term, Joseph Tsai, Alibaba’s vice chairman, said in an interview in November.

Tsai said he hoped an operating system could help drive consumption in unexplored sectors including digital entertainment, health care and travel. Alibaba announced it would invest $590 million into smartphone maker Meizu Technology Corp in February.

— With assistance by Lulu Chen, and Edmond Lococo

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