China's Android smartphone giants said to take on Google Play app store

The logo of Google Play, the official app store for the Android operating system, is displayed at an event in Japan in September of last year.
PHOTO: Reuters

Chinese Android smartphone giants Huawei Technologies, Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi Corp are joining forces to create a new platform for overseas developers to distribute apps onto all of their online stores simultaneously, in a move analysts said is meant to challenge the dominance of Google Play.

The four technology companies are ironing out kinks in what is known as the Global Developer Service Alliance (GDSA).

This platform aims to make it easier for developers of games, music, movies and other apps for Android smartphones to expand in markets around the world, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

The GDSA was initially targeted to launch in March, although it is not clear how that will be affected by the coronavirus outbreak, the sources said.

A prototype website said the platform will initially cover nine "regions", including India, Indonesia and Russia.

All four major Chinese smartphone vendors declined to comment for this story. Oppo and Vivo are both owned by Chinese manufacturer BBK Electronics.

Internet search powerhouse Google, whose services are banned in China, earned about US$8.8 billion (S$12 billion) globally from Google Play - the official app store for the Android operating system - in 2019, said Katie Williams, an analyst at Sensor Tower.

Google also sells content such as movies, books and apps on its eponymous app store and collects a 30 per cent commission. Google, the main subsidiary of tech conglomerate Alphabet, did not respond to a request for comment.

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"By forming this alliance each company will be looking to leverage the others' advantages in different regions, with Xiaomi's strong user base in India, Vivo and Oppo in Southeast Asia, and Huawei in Europe," said Nicole Peng, the vice-president of mobility research at Canalys. "Secondly, it's to start to build some more negotiation power against Google."

Huawei, Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi combined to make up 40.1 per cent of global smartphone shipments in the fourth quarter of last year, according to the technology research firm IDC.

While Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi have full access to Google services in international markets, Huawei lost access for new devices last year after Washington added the Shenzhen-based company to a US trade blacklist over security concerns.

That bars American hi-tech suppliers from selling goods and services to Huawei.

Chinese vendors are trying to capture a greater share of software and services as hardware sales slow, said Will Wong, a smartphone analyst with IDC. "App store, pre-loading apps, advertisements and gaming are areas that could generate new revenue" Wong said.

Huawei has initiated efforts to move away from Google by developing its own Harmony OS as an alternative.

The GDSA's website includes the logo of Wanka Online, a Hong Kong-listed Android "ecosystem" platform next to a contact for the GDSA's General Secretariat. Wanka declined to confirm its involvement.

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Analysts said the GDSA might be able to lure some app developers by providing more exposure than the already-crowded Google Play. The new platform could also provide better monetary incentives.

"By making it simple for developers to increase their reach across multiple app stores, Huawei, Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi stand to attract more developers and, ultimately, more apps," said Sensor Tower's Williams.

Managing the alliance, however, may be a challenge, according to Peng of Canalys.

"The execution is difficult, as its hard to say which company is pulling more weight and investing more in it. We haven't seen the alliance model work well in the past."