September 2, 2011 5:29 pm

Baidu prepares mobile operating system

Baidu, China’s largest online search company by revenues, took the first step towards launching a mobile operating system on Friday as it seeks to extend its dominant position in the Chinese market to the growing mobile phone segment.

The company announced a software platform, Baidu Yi (meaning ‘easy’), which allows consumers fast and easy use of search-related functions on mobile devices. The current version of the system is based on Google’s Android open source software, but “it is possible that we [will] launch our own operating system in the future,” Wang Jing, vice-president, told the FT.

Smartphones running the software, plans for which Robin Li, Baidu chief executive, announced in an interview with the FT in March, display a search box within seconds of starting up, allowing users to start web search immediately while other components continue booting in the background.

As well as closely integrating search with other applications, it offers users 180 Gigabytes of storage space in the cloud to manage personal data such as e-mail, pictures and contacts, much like Google does.

The company said it was in talks with app developers, smartphone makers and makers of key components such as chipsets to form a broad alliance capable of supporting the platform.

Baidu holds a share of more than 70 per cent of China’s online search market by revenues compared with less than 20 per cent for Google according to Analysys, a Beijing-based internet research firm. But Baidu’s share of the mobile search market is much less dominant at just 35 per cent.

China has 485m internet users in total, and 318m already access the web on their mobile phones, according the China Internet Network Information Center, the state web registry.

Baidu’s mobile move follows announcements by Alibaba, China’s largest e-commerce group by revenue, and Huawei, the world’s second-largest telecom network gear maker by revenue, earlier this year of similar mobile operating systems with cloud computing services, highlighting the race to sign up consumers.

But Baidu said it was confident it had a much better starting position. “To us, cloud computing is much more natural than to an e-commerce company or a telecom equipment maker because we have the capability to handle data, just as Google has, that’s why they’re so good at it,” said Mr Wang.

Baidu also relaunched its main web search product. It replaced its past main page, which resembled Google’s with just a search box and links to some other services such as maps and a bulletin board service.

The new product features updates from the websites users visit most often, plus a mix of news and social networking services. Analysts said the changes were a defensive move aimed at keeping users on Baidu’s site as the rapid rise of social media in China is threatening the search engine’s power over consumers.

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