Summary:

Web apps that surface through the handset’s centralized search function and don’t require installation for use? That’s a great idea, and it sounds awfully familiar…

baidu

Baidu has a great solution for the problem of app discoverability. Annoyed by the problem of app stores only surfacing a select group of top apps for their users, China’s answer to Google intends to launch a “Light App” platform that will help people use less popular apps without even having to download them.

The company’s Baidu Yi operating system is a fork of Android. Baidu actually bought an app store provider called 91 Wireless last month (at $1.9 billion, the biggest Chinese internet takeover yet), but it has a point: the traditional app store model is great for promoting apps, but not so great at helping users find apps that specifically suit their needs, even if not many other people use them.

And so we have Light App, which appears to essentially offer developers a way to package their HTML5 web apps. The big idea is that people can use Baidu’s built-in search function to state their needs, and the phone will respond with a list of “light” apps that can be run without installation (as is the case with all web apps).

Now, where might Baidu have got that idea from? One distinct possibility is that it borrowed the idea from Mozilla’s Firefox OS.

Firefox OS Adaptive Search

One of the key features of Firefox OS is Adaptive Search. The user enters a search term and the phone will look for matching content on the device and apps in the Firefox Marketplace, but also web apps that might help the user out. The user can then either go straight into that web app or save it to their phone.

Baidu appears to be adding some packaging to this concept to standardize presentation and advertising formats (the company would split revenues with the developers, according to the WSJ), and to throw in some smart directory services. But essentially it looks like the same idea to me.

That’s no bad thing. It sounds like Baidu has an interesting – and, crucially, profitable — spin on the concept. And if Baidu gives web app technology a boost, then Firefox OS may stand to benefit too.

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