Baidu pushes new model

24 March 2011

BEIJING: Baidu, the Chinese search giant, is hoping to extend its capabilities across a range of devices, pushing a strategy which the company describes as "box computing".

The digital specialist wants to empower consumers utilising PCs, and portable gadgets like smartphones or tablets, to complete a variety of activities simply through its search box.

Such an approach would allow visitors to locate information, or launch other programmes and applications, employing Baidu as a starting point.

Further material which could possibly be integrated into listings incorporates books, content, apps and games.

Robin Li, Baidu's chief executive, first outlined this vision in 2009, told the Wall Street Journal that the objective is to achieve significant progress during the next three to five years.

"[We want] to obviate operating systems so that the user interface on any device, be it a personal computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone, is a simple, yet powerful box that does anything the user wants using conversational language," he said.

Among the advantages of hitting such a target is making the consumer experience more straight-forward, alongside speeding up the access to information.

"In order for an operating system to work, it needs to [process a large amount of data], but if we make it just about a search box, then the task will be much simpler," said Li.

"Right now when you power on an iPhone, it takes 45 seconds before you can do anything. In the future, one second, you turn on the device, and you can start using the box. That's our mission for the future of the internet."

If successful, this initiative might put Baidu at the centre of the online "ecosystem", as well as enabling it to retain users and build up its core competencies.

Some obstacles do exist, both concerning the technological infrastructure supporting such a scheme, but also in terms of correctly analysing what enquiries mean, and the material that is thus most useful.

"When the box is capable of doing all those things, we then will make sure that people can get the box within one second after the power-up of the device," said Li.

"The goal is to let people become increasingly dependent on the Baidu box."

These measures have come about due to the rise of online video, led by platforms Tudou and Youku in China, and social networks such as Kaixin001 and Sina Weibo.

"They may not have a direct competitive relationship with search, but at the end of the day, it's media time," Li continued. "If users spend a lot of time on A, then naturally they'll spend less time on B."

Baidu's ambitions suggest it could be expected to develop an equivalent like Google's Chrome OS for mobile, which bases all applications within a web browser.

Li agreed the firm would require some form of operating system, although as yet there is no official model in place.

"Someone else can do it or we can do it ourselves; [it] does not matter," he said.

Data sourced from Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, Seeking Alpha; additional content by Warc staff