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Korea to develop homegrown OS for smartphones

South Korea will seek to develop a new, open-source operating system for mobile phones that will help secure local smartphone makers’ future competitiveness against their global rivals such as Apple Inc., a government official said Monday.

The move comes shortly after Google Inc. announced its purchase of Motorola Mobility, a hardware company that makes phones based on Google’s Android operating system.

The purchase is expected to herald a new competitor that could compete effectively with Apple, which makes iPhones based on its own operating system. But the deal also poses challenges to South Korean companies such as Samsung Electronics Co., which makes Android-running smartphones.

Kim Jae-hong, a deputy minister from the Ministry of Knowledge Economy, said Google’s takeover of Motorola, along with the approximately 17,000 mobile phone-related patents it will acquire, could provide short-term protection for South Korean companies using the open Android system against Apple’s patent claims.

Samsung, the world’s second-largest mobile phone maker, is currently facing patent suits raised by Apple that claim the South Korean company copied the design and operating functions of its iconic iPhone 3 model.

Kim, however, noted that Google, with its newly acquired ability to produce smartphones, could become one of the largest competitors for South Korean handset producers in the future.

“Because Google is an open-source system, it cannot just switch over to a closed-source system overnight,” the deputy minister for industry told reporters, referring to the Android OS. He added that because the joint market share of Samsung and LG Electronics Inc.

is the second largest in the global hardware market, the government expects the current cooperative relationships between Google and Samsung and LG will continue for some time.

“Still, we cannot completely rule out the possibility of Google jumping into the smartphone business in the future.”

The government will launch a project before the end of the year to allow the country’s phone makers to jointly develop their own open-source mobile operating system, as well as a Web-based operating system.

It also plans to help foster what the ministry official called a “habitat” for the new OS since a new system’s success ― or survival ― depends largely on how many people use the system.

Apart from Google’s Android, Samsung also has its own mobile operating system, called “bada,” but the software is little known or used outside of the country as it has failed to attract global users.

Kim said Samsung had been very negative about joint development of an open OS, but its stance changed greatly after the Google-Motorola merger. 

(Yonhap News)