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Dell (Nasdaq: DELL ) and Baidu (Nasdaq: BIDU ) have been working on a Chinese smartphone for months. Today, the unlikely partners unveiled the first of the devices based on the Baidu Yi mobile operating system.
The new platform wasn't exactly built from scratch. It's essentially a modified version of Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) Android, capable of running all Android apps while also tweaked to offer localized Chinese offerings.
The move has always made sense. Baidu has the keen advantage of learning from Google's hits and misses outside of China. The search engine speedster commands a larger market share in China than Google does in the U.S., and if Big G has been able to quickly grow into the top dog in mobile it becomes low-lying fruit for Baidu. Mobile search and the online advertising mother lode it represents matter.
The only rub is why Baidu chose to partner with Dell. The same vantage point that allows it to port what works stateside -- just as SINA (Nasdaq: SINA ) has cashed in on the Twitter and Tumblr crazes through Weibo and Renren (NYSE: RENN ) has taken a page out of the Facebook playbook with its namesake social-networking website -- should have shown Baidu that Dell has been a dud in mobile. The new Streak Pro even carries the "Streak" name that hasn't exactly been a hit.
Baidu also could have teamed up with an Asian darling instead of reaching out for a Western partner. However, isn't that pretty much the point? If the Baidu association can make Dell succeed in China, the world will have no choice but to take notice of China's top search engine as a global powerhouse.
This also obviously doesn't have to end here. Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) is a hot player at the high end of China's smartphone market. There is no need for it to embrace rival platforms. However, Samsung and other meaty players in this space haven't had a problem playing nice with Android. Why not Baidu Yi?
Baidu is about to learn if its envious position as China's undisputed search leader will be enough to turn Dell into a regional powerhouse in smartphones. If that's possible, the world better get to know Baidu a little better.
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