Google's Android is picking up steam in China among both big and small mobile phone makers, and the operating system is set to move even further down the price chain in coming months.
Small Chinese companies in the southern city of Shenzhen, which is notorious for its bustling markets full of knock-off electronics, are increasingly putting the Google OS in phones.
Chinese Android phones are still rare at vendor stalls displaying fake iPhones and low-end handsets from generic Chinese brands. But a handful of small Chinese companies have released legitimate Android phones, and some of the country's makers of "bandit" handsets are also moving toward Android.
"Bandit," or "shanzhai" in Chinese, describes any phone that is sold without the required government testing and approval in China. Some are counterfeits of popular phones, while others are original.
"Bandit" phones running Android have appeared in Chinese media reports and on video-sharing Web sites like Youku.com.
"You can see them, but there are not too many of them yet," said Karl J. Weaver, a handset business development manager for Newport Technologies.
Chinese "bandit" phone makers, who run on wafer-thin margins and sell few smartphones, have avoided Android so far partly because the chipsets that make it run well are expensive. But upcoming products from companies like Taiwanese chipset vendor MediaTek are expected to help push prices down.
Meanwhile, Chinese giants like Lenovo and Huawei Technologies are already using Android in phones, and they are being joined by much smaller companies.
Apanda is one fledgling Shenzhen company whose only phone so far uses Android. The phone, with a 3.2-inch touchscreen and launched late last year as a WCDMA handset, will also be released with support for the homegrown Chinese 3G standard, TD-SCDMA, a company representative said in a recent interview.
Apanda was selling the sleek phone, called the A60, for 1,988 yuan (US$290). The phone has a 5-megapixel camera, version 1.6 of the Android OS and a Qualcomm processor. But it does not come with the Android Market because Apanda has its own application download store, the company representative said.
Other small Chinese companies already selling Android phones include Broncho, which makes a handset with a 3.2-inch touchscreen called the A1, and Mobile Data Online, whose S812 Android phone looks similar to the HTC Magic handset. The price of the S812 is also around the equivalent of US$290.
"Everybody is trying to design around the Google phone," Weaver said.