Startup Spotlight: Acadine Technologies

Could an offshoot of Firefox be set to challenge Google and Apple in the operating system (OS) jungle?


In the world of developing OS, the 90% startup failure rate is all too real. With such established industry leaders - Apple (iOS) and Google (Android), in particular - space for fresh competition is remarkably limited. Carving a niche from which to expand is going to be essential for any new OS to pinch enough of the market to survive and grow, and Acadine Technologies think they may just have found one.

H5OS, brainchild of the existing Acadine Technologies start up and their new president Li Gong, is an OS in its infancy and one that aims to sneak in under the radar of the existing giants to exploit the rapidly evolving - and wildly hyped - Internet of Things (IoT). Gong is well-known from his time with Mozilla, non-profit developers of web-software Firefox. The now-CEO of Acadine moved to the Hong Kong-based company believing that their fast development, huge international reach and sizeable funding was a recipe for, if not success, a higher chance of survival than other would-be OS competitors.

In 2015 the company, who now employ over 120 people, landed a $100 million war-chest from state-controlled Chinese company Tsinghua Unigroup as they look to expand into western technology markets and compete with the giants. Their Silicon Valley office in Palo Alto suggests a US focus, but the company is actually closer with Chinese manufacturing powers thanks to their current investment situation. Gong is attempting to shift this perception, though, seeking further investment from international investors ‘to dispel very early the incorrect perception that we are somehow a China-backed company. We are really a pure Silicon Valley-style startup.’

Gong championed Firefox - still the most-used web browser in a handful of countries - in his time at Mozilla, and H5OS is based loosely on Boot2Gecko, the source code that powers Mozilla’s fledgling OS. Boot2Gecko and Firefox OS’s popularity has far from caught fire, but is already being used on millions of commercially deployed devices - a solid foundation for development.

Where Acadine’s plan begins to differentiate from their myriad of competitors is their focus on the ever-expanding IoT. It aims to power not only phones, but medical equipment, drones and wearable tech, to name just a few. If Mozilla failed to make promising enough inroads into the smartphone market for Gong, it seems unlikely that H5OS will be much different. The monopoly shared - unevenly - by Google and Apple covers everything from maps to social media, and Acadine’s decision to focus on a wide range of equipment gives it the chance of making strides in multiple areas and building its influence from a wide net.

H5OS won’t actually be available for use in these products until later in 2016, but the likes of ARM, Qualcomm, Alcatel and Thundersoft have been revealed as partners looking to aid its journey to market. ‘We are excited to see Acadine working to enable and optimize H5OS n our Qualcomm Snapdragon 210 and 212’ said Keith Kressin, senior vice president and Qualcomm. ‘We look forward to seeing H5OS shipping on a variety of smart devices across multiple segments and expect to see the first devices using Snapdragon processors and H5OS to be introduced later this year.’

So, with Google and Apple waging war over the phone market, diverting resources to it following Google’s boots-on-the-ground effort in 2008 - a war Google are largely winning - Gong and Acadine are looking to steer clear of the giants. ’We’re targeting segments where Android is weak,’ said Gong. One such weakness would be Android’s reliance on a touch screen; if Acadine can corner the ‘retro’ phone market, for example, other more profitable doors could open.

But perhaps Acadine’s trump card is the fact that their OS is built on HTML5. The web-based approach - in favour of a native app - is known to have increased versatility, adaptability and is more memory-efficient. Thanks to its HTML base, potential developers will not need to learn new languages to create products and, though Acadine are hinting at a bundle pack being released to get developers started on H5OS, at present no special tools are required to build.

On February 17th, H5OS was launched with relatively little fanfare. They released H5OS Core 1.0 - the central component of its operating system - as well as a set of feature packs designed so that hardware companies can adapt the OS for a range of products. The plan to generate revenue is two-fold; through fees like royalties and tech support - paid when device makers use the software for their own projects - and through other areas such as e-commerce, preloaded apps and search. The war against the industry’s big hitters will be both difficult and - hopefully for Acadine - long, but with an experienced helmsman and hefty investment, H5OS could be set to worm its way into the OS jungle in the coming year.

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