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Chinese Browser Baidu Targets Middle East Users
Baidu, China’s most popular search engine, is targeting the Middle East and Africa this year, partnering with Orange to offer its browser on Android devices in the region.
The browser was rolled out on Android phones in Egypt this week, as Orange moves to serve growing demand for Android in the country. While Android remains a close second, at 14% of market share to Symbian (19%) in Egypt, according to Google, Orange says demand for Android phones has doubled in the country over the past year.
There’s ample room for Android growth in these markets. Generally, while Android dominates global smartphone markets, it lags behind both Symbian and Nokia’s Series 40 across Africa and Asia, according to Mobithinking.
As Orange moves to offer its 80 million customers in the broader Middle East, Africa, and Asia more services, it’s betting that Baidu’s new focus on Arabic will broaden the app’s appeal. But will Arab smartphone users take to Baidu, whose app doesn't offer its own search engine? Like Firefox, the browser offers search via Google, Yahoo!, and Bing, but leaves out its native search engine, which only supports Chinese characters.
One thing the Baidu browser has going for it is that it offers 30-90% data compression to reduce data usage, so it’s optimized for markets where browsing is expensive or difficult. Baidu claims that the browser is 20% faster than Chrome, Firefox, and Opera, a claim that checked out during a test by CNet. It also offers easy links to Wikipedia, Facebook, and Twitter, sites making it ideal for consumers who like to have quick links at their disposal.
Despite the browser's lack of native search, Orange seems to be betting that Baidu's friendly user interface and a swifter browsing speed will entice users in the Middle East.
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