ZTE's smartphones weaken Google's hold in Latin America

Updated: 2014-03-02 17:10

By MICHAEL BARRIS in New York (China Daily Latin America)

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New launches signal a change in what's offered to better compete

ZTE Corp's plan to launch two smartphones in Latin America this spring using a mobile operating system it developed with US software maker Mozilla is the latest sign that Google Inc's dominant Android mobile operating system no longer has a stranglehold on handset makers, a ZTE executive said.

ZTE's smartphones weaken Google's hold in Latin America 

ZTE devices are displayed at the Mobile World Congress, the world's largest mobile phone trade show in Barcelona, Spain on Feb 26. The show has seen a push to get mobile devices cheap enough to reach emerging markets without sacrificing performance. Manu Fernandez / AP 

Smartphones powered by Firefox OS — bearing the same name as the Firefox web browser — are "key to ZTE's growth in Latin America", ZTE said in a release. The phones enable the Chinese company to "better target the entry-level smartphone market, providing an alternative for consumers who have few proven and affordable options", the company said.

The planned second-quarter rollout of the Firefox OS-powered ZTE Open C in Venezuela and Uruguay on the Telefonica network continues ZTE's long-term partnership with the mobile service provider. ZTE also plans to roll out its ZTE Open II sometime in the near future but didn't identify the targeted regions in a release.

The launches signal how handset makers are trying to diversify the software platforms for their smartphones and other mobile devices, said Kan Yulun, ZTE's chief executive for Europe, the Middle East and Africa and Latin America.

"Consumers want innovative devices that are also cost-effective," Kan said. "By delivering not just one, but two of the first devices with the latest version of Firefox OS, ZTE is continuing to push the boundaries and bring its customers the very latest that mobile technology can offer." ZTE's selection of Firefox OS fits with its aim to develop a range of devices that fit the consumer's needs, the executive said.

While Apple Inc's iPhone uses its own iOS software, most other smartphones sold around the world are powered by Android. Firefox OS is an open-source, Web-based operating system. "We have huge confidence in the Firefox OS platform and expect to deliver more than one million Firefox OS phones this year alone," Kan said.

ZTE said users will find the operating system "fresh" and simple to use. It comes with "a full range" of features and apps, including camera, dialer, text messaging and games. "Web apps are not resource intensive, so users can enjoy higher performance at a more affordable price," ZTE said.

The Open II evolves from the ZTE Open, launched last year at the Mobile World Congress with the help of Telefónica in Spain, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Mexico and Uruguay. The phone later was sold in the US and UK via eBay, initially selling out in just three days. In addition to eBay, ZTE said it will also cooperate with additional e-commerce platforms for both the Open C and Open II.

Li Gong, Mozilla's senior vice-president of mobile devices and president of its Asia operations, said ZTE was one of Mozilla's first partners to launch a Firefox OS phone, the ZTE Open. "We have worked closely together to continue advancing the new platform. The ZTE Open C and Open II are the latest examples of how Firefox OS has evolved to bring powerful open Web technologies to the smartphone," Li said.

ZTE's embrace of Mozilla's new mobile operating system comes as the technology industry closely watches Apple's patent war against rival smartphone makers using the Google software. Though Android's global market share on smartphones is far larger than the iOS's, Apple's operating system still defines the smartphone standard.