Just as Baidu has followed Google with its own tweaked versions of search, Adwords, and Adsense, China's leading search engine is now apparently setting its sites on rolling out a mobile operating system.
In a Financial Times interview published yesterday, Baidu CEO Robin Li discusses a stripped-down platform that would open to a single Baidu search box. Li's vision of "box computing" may seem ludicrous at first. Who wants a dumbed-down smartphone? Who wants a tablet that doesn't open up to shiny icons promising multimedia goodness with a single tap?
However, Li's vision is an operating system that boots up in a second, unlike the nearly 45 seconds he claims that it takes some Apple
Will this be enough to differentiate Baidu in a sea of mobile operating systems? It probably isn't going to help that the Financial Times claims that it will be another three to five years before Baidu's platform is released. It promises to be an entirely different landscape by then, and that's not necessarily a good thing.
It also bears pointing out that a Baidu spokesman told Bloomberg this morning that Li never revealed that Baidu was actually working on a light operating system. The spokesman couldn't confirm or deny the report. It may simply be Li dreaming out loud -- though we all know how easy it is for these publicly voiced dreams to ultimately come true.
It's easy to see why the dot-com darling is likely following Google into this niche. Just as Google has a hit with Android and another potential winner with Chrome, a search company can't resist the vertical integration. Baidu may command all but roughly a quarter of China's search market, but mobile search promises to be an entirely different market. Every device where Baidu can serve up its eventual operating system on assures it of being the box computing's box.
Baidu obviously has a branding advantage in the world's most populous nation, but it still needs to cultivate the hardware relationships to make this happen.
Google had it easy. Handset and tablet makers flocked to Android because it was a free open source solution. Instead of negotiating with Microsoft
Li's allowed the luxury of dreaming out loud, though. Unlike other Chinese tech stocks that have been slammed lately, Baidu's stock is within pocket change of its all-time high.
The failure of Microsoft's Kin may seem to indicate that consumers don't want a simplified platform, but who are we to tell Li to think outside of the box given his amazing track record?
Tik Tok, Li.
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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has been a fan of China's growth stocks for several years now, even though he does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.