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China Unicom (Hong Kong) Ltd and Microsoft Corp on Thursday launched an alliance based on Microsoft's Windows operating system.
Analysts said the partnership might boost the sales of products that run on Windows in China.
In addition to the Windows system on personal computers, Microsoft is also developing operating systems for smartphones and tablets. The Windows Phone mobile operating system is considered a challenger to Apple Inc's iOS and Google Inc's Android mobile operating systems.
Windows Phone devices now hold only a small share of the Chinese market, accounting for less than 3 percent of the total in the third quarter. Android handsets held the lead in that period, with a 72 percent market share, according to Beijing-based research company Analysys International.
China Unicom and Microsoft officials said the new Windows alliance will lead to the development of more innovative devices and attract more partners.
"China is the No 1 market worldwide in terms of PC, tablet, mobile and Internet users," Kevin Turner, chief operating officer of Microsoft, said at a news briefing in Beijing on Thursday. "It is a very exciting place."
"We believe there is a great opportunity across the country to provide new business models to partners, new technologies to developers and best services to customers," he said.
In contrast to Apple's iOS and Google's Android systems, Windows platform can operate seamlessly across phones, tablets, laptops, desktop computers and televisions, Microsoft said.
Lu Yimin, general manager of China Unicom, said Windows Phone devices give users a large variety of choices. He said China Unicom, which has more than 70 million subscribers to its third-generation, or 3G, network, will help promote more products using the Windows system.
Microsoft will put more resources into technical support, schedule more regular training sessions and place a greater emphasis on marketing promotions, Turner said.
Seven cell phone manufacturers, including Nokia Corp, HTC Corp and Samsung Group, and the chipset makers Qualcomm Inc and Intel Corp, will be among the first members of the alliance.
Stephen Elop, chief executive officer of Nokia, said China has already become the world's largest market for Windows Phone devices. China is also the biggest single-country market for Nokia's Lumia smartphone series, Elop said during a Guangzhou conference this week, without releasing specific figures.
Microsoft officially introduced its Windows Phone 8 mobile operating system to China on Thursday. Before that, HTC had released two Windows Phone 8 devices that run on China Unicom's 3G network.
"As more mobile phone vendors start selling Windows Phone devices, it demonstrated that Nokia made a very bright choice at the very beginning," said Gustavo Eichelmann, Nokia China chief. Nokia has been using the Windows Phone operating system since 2010.
Ji Chendong, telecom analyst at KPMG China, said he is confident the alliance will give sales of Windows Phone devices a boost next year.
Ray Yam, president of HTC China, said it would take less time for Windows Phone devices to realize explosive growth than Android smartphones.
"Circumstances have changed," Yam said.
"The well-developed network infrastructure and higher smartphone penetration rate in China have both laid a good foundation for Windows Phone handsets."
Research company Gartner Inc forecast that Windows Phone mobile devices will have a 13 percent share of the global smartphone market in 2016.