China's equivalent of Google, Baidu, plans to release a mobile operating system, Baidu-Yi, based on a customised version of Android and with a marketplace for apps such as games, maps and other tools.
Baidu (pronounced by-doo with the stress on the first syllable in English) is a formidable brand. It's the leading Chinese language search engine and is ranked by Alexa as the sixth most popular website in the world, reaching about 10% of Internet users every day.
Baidu Yi, which can be translated as "Baidu Easy" will feature integration of an e-reader, business directory, maps and the music service Ting. Its operating system is described as a "heavily modified version of Android" and third party developers will be able to distribute apps via a marketplace like the Android Market.
Some commentators are describing this as a "Google rip-off" but this is what open source is all about. If Baidu wants to create an Android fork then this is playing within the rules. In fact, when you consider the idea, it is surprising that there aren't more Android forks and more chaos and customization.
Although no date has been set for the launch, Dell is already working with Baidu on a range of smartphones and a tablet computer based on its Streak 5 that was discontinued in the US last month.
For app developers there's the prospect of a huge under-exploited market. There's just the language barrier to overcome. Perhaps the best option is to find Chinese partner companies to perform localization of your apps. After all, if you don't find a way to fill the space, the Chinese market has a reputation for finding other ways to fill it.
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