It’s been rumored for a while now that China’s Baidu (NSDQ: BIDU) is keen to follow rival search giant Google (NSDQ: GOOG) into the smartphone space with its own operating system for mobiles and tablets, a la Android. Now, we have some more details on what that could look like, courtesy of the company’s CEO.
Robin Li, the CEO of Baidu, says that he envisions a pared-down mobile OS that takes only one second to start up, and features only one thing on the home screen: a search box, which would be used to navigate to everything else. Li’s term for this idea: the quite catchy “box computing.”
The comments were made in an interview with the FT, which also noted that it could take as long as three to five years before this OS hits the market.
Why the delay? Because Baidu is trying to first develop a “wide range of other uses” for its search box before it moves on to this idea of creating a mobile OS. Those “other uses” are not specified in the article, although Baidu has been busy in other areas — investing in real estate site Anjuke, forming an online video JV Qiyi.com with Providence Equity Partners, for example — which could point to what those other uses might include.
You might say at this point that there are already too many mobile OS players in the market and there couldn’t possibly be room for another one, Baidu may have something interesting up its sleeve that would differentiate it quite a bit from the other smartphone/tablet players around today.
For one, Li’s idea of a simplified home page, comprising just a Baidu search box, would mean a super-simple interface for the user (a big contrast to iOS from Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) as it normally appears today). That would appeal to users that don’t mind typing in or speaking their commands rather than scrolling for them.
Then the one-second processing time required to boot up the rest of the OS, would, as Li notes, also contrast to Apple devices that can take as long as 45 seconds to power up — although a lot of users never bother to switch them off in the first place, so this might not be relevant to everyone.
Currently Baidu is the dominant internet search player in the country, with more than a 70 percent share of the market. But when it comes to mobile search, Google and Baidu are equal at around 26 percent.
Like every other company working in mobile in China, there is a tremendous opportunity for growth for Baidu. Currently Nokia’s Symbian is the most dominant OS in the market, although the current upheaval at Nokia (NYSE: NOK) in its switch to Windows Phone 7 from Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) as its main smartphone OS could see Nokia losing ground in the market. That opens the door to the many Android-based phone developers; as well as Apple, which has been growing quickly in that market. And with this move, maybe Baidu, too.