BEIJING: Alibaba, the Chinese internet giant, and its partner UCWeb, the mobile browser business, have introduced a new mobile search engine – Shenma – as they aim to tap into China's huge base of smartphone users.
"Every commonly used search engine in the marketplace today was developed for the desktop, and offers a mobile interface that is only skin deep," said Yu Yongfu, UCWeb's Chairman and CEO, in remarks reported by the Financial Times. "Mobile search is a new area, there is no king. Everyone is at the same starting line," he added.
That last claim may be a slight exaggeration as UCWeb's flagship product, UC Browser, had a 65% share of China's mobile browser market in 2013, as well as a leading 32% share in India, and more than 500m users worldwide. It is also in a position to speed take-up of Shenma by making it the default search engine on its browser app, ahead of Baidu, Google, Yicha and Taobao.
Launching the product, he declared: "We believe the internet will be centred around [the] mobile rather than desktop browser." He expected that by the end of 2014 mobile search queries would surpass desktop search queries as around half a billion Chinese consumers were now smartphone users.
"By taking a mobile-first approach to search, Shenma will integrate search technology into the full scope of user experiences," he stated. In practical terms this meant offering more streamlined searching for mobile apps alongside better integration with Alibaba's e-commerce services.
Shenma is targeted at users of Baidu, currently China's leading search engine with, according to Analysys International, a 72% share of the mobile market.
Announcing first quarter results last week, Baidu's chief financial officer Jennifer Li, noted: "Customer adoption of the mobile search product is really terrific. Mobile revenue growth is really the strongest and fastest growth sector."
Data sourced from Financial Times, Bloomberg, IDG, UCWeb; additional content by Warc staff