Baidu Plans Operating System for Mobiles

Baidu plans to develop a light operating system for mobile devices, its chief executive has indicated, a strategy in which China’s leading internet search company would once again follow Google.

AFP | Getty Images

Over the coming three to five years, the company aimed to create software which offered use of a web search box within a second of starting their smartphone or tablet computer, Robin Li told the Financial Times.

“In order for an operating system to work, it needs to [do a lot of processing], but if we make it just about a search box, then the task will be much simpler.

“Right now when you power on an iPhone, it takes 45 seconds before you can do anything. In the future, one second, you turn on the device, and you can start using the box. That’s our mission for the future of the internet,” he said.

Mr Li’s remarks offer the clearest explanation yet of a strategy he calls “box computing”, and indicate that its ultimate result could resemble Chrome OS, the light operating system Google has developed.

That system, announced in July 2009, is aimed at consumers who mainly use their computers or phones to access the internet. A web browser and a media player are the system’s only applications.

Western observers have often criticised Chinese internet companies as mere clones of their western peers, especially as Beijing’s strict internet censorship system has kept many US internet groups out of the world’s most populous internet market and proved challenging to those who have tried to come in.

Google relocated its China web search service from its mainland website to its Hong Kong website a year ago arguing that it could no longer put up with growing censorship demandsfrom Chinese authorities. The U.S. company’s share of China’s web search market by revenue has since dropped to 19.6 per cent, while Baidu’s market share has risen to more than 75 per cent, according to Analysys, the internet research firm.

Mr Li has long said he wanted to transform the search box, the frame where internet users can enter the phrase they want to search for, into a universal computing tool that could replace all other interfaces. “The goal is to let people become increasingly dependent on the Baidu box,” he said.

Mr Li said Baidu intended to first develop a wide range of new uses for the box before launching the basic system. “When the box is capable of doing all those things, we then will make sure that people can get the box within one second after the power-up of the device,” he said.

Mr Li added that new internet trends such as online video and social media could challenge the dominance of search. “They may not have a direct competitive relationship with search, but at the end of the day, it’s media time. If users spend a lot of time on A, then naturally they’ll spend less time on B.”