Kai-Fu Lee’s Sinovation Ventures focuses on a niche market targeting software developers. In April, the fund led a $10 million angel round in Jingling, a Chinese startup developing Linux-based tablets and laptops, TechCrunch has learned. Jingling was founded only in June 2020 but has quickly assembled a team of 80 employees hailing from Aliyun OS, Alibaba’s Linux distribution, Thunder Software, a Chinese solution provider, and China’s open-source community. Other investors in the round included private equity firm Trustbridge Partners.
Most of the startup’s staff work on its Linux-based, JingOS, operating system in Beijing. The rest are developing hardware in Shenzhen, its supply chain. “Operating systems are a highly worthwhile field for investment,” Peter Fang, a , told TechCrunch. “We’ve seen the best product iteration for work and entertainment through the combination of and Magic Keyboard, but no tablet maker has delivered a superior user experience for the Android system so far, so we decided to back JingOS.”
“The investment is also in line with Sinovation’s recognition and prediction in ARMin the future,” the investor added. Based on the ARM architecture, Jingling’s first device, the JingPad A1 tablet, has already shipped over 500 units in a pre-sale and is ramping up interest through a . According to Liu, Jingling currently uses processors from Tsinghua Unigroup but is looking into Qualcomm and MediaTek chipsets for future production.
On the software end, JingOS open-sourced on GitHub, has accumulated over 50,000 downloads from users worldwide, most of whom are in theand Europe. But how many want a Linux tablet or laptop? Liu Chengcheng, who launched Jingling with Zhu Rui, said the demand is big enough from the to sustain the startup’s early-phase growth. Liu is known for founding China’s leading startup news site,e 36Kr, and Zhu is an operating system expert and a veteran of Motorola and Lenovo.
Targeting theis step one for Jingling, for “it’s difficult to gain a foothold by starting in the [general] consumer market,” said Liu. “The Linux market is too small for but too hard for small startups to tackle… aside from Jingling, Huawei is the only other company in China building a mobile operating system, but HarmonyOS focuses more on IoTs.”
Launching a new operating system is undoubtedly an audacious move and has been done before. Linux laptops have been around for years, but Jingling wanted to offer something different by enabling desktop and mobile experiences on one device. Jingling made JingOS compatible with Linux desktop software like WPS Office, Terminal, and the usual smartphone Android apps. The JingPad A1 tablet comes with a detachable keyboard that immediately turns into a laptop, a setup similar to Apple’sfor iPad.
“It’s like a gift to programmers, who can use it to code in the Linux system but also use Android personal computers, the founder observed.on the run,” said Liu. Liu noted that Jingling aspired to widen its market about two years ago. The success of Chromebooks, which comprised 10.8% of the PC market in 2020 and have been increasingly eating into Microsoft’s dominance, indicates the slowing demand for Windows
The JingPad A1 is sold at a starting , roughly between $200 and $550, depending on the specs and hardware providers. Tablets, along with PCs, got a bump in sales during the , thanks to more people working and learning remotely, but in the long term, Jingling will have to get its pricing right and pin down where it sits in the market.