Alibaba,UCWeb Team Up to launch A Mobile-First Search Engine.
Chinese e-commerce group Alibaba and mobile browser company UCWeb have plans of launching a mobile search engine. This recent move is targeted at challenging rivals Tencent and Baidu and buttressing Alibaba’s presence on the mobile internet ahead of its US IPO later this year.
The project, which has bee dubbed as Shenma, which means “sacred horse” in Mandarin, was announced during Monday by UCWeb, Alibaba’s join partner in this launch, which makes a popular internet browser for smartphones with over 500 million users globally.
Alibaba took an undisclosed stake within UCWeb during the previous year, as part of their strategy to secure a foothold in the mobile internet where rivals like Tencent currently has an edge due to its hugely popular Weixin (WeChat) and QQ mobiel messaging applications.
Alibaba and UCWeb are betting that China’s top ranked search engine Baidu, which has more that 60 percent of the country’s internet search market, may be vulnerable when it comes down to the mobile internet space, where much smaller screens may not favor the the traditional search engine that generates pages and pages loosely targeted results.
Launching on Monday as sm.cn, Shenma will offer a “unique, mobile centric features” according to a press release by UCWeb, which will make it far more convenient for mobile users who wish to search China’s fragmented application market for content, and who want a more precise searches instead of having to scroll through pages after pages of results on a mobile screen.
An estimated amount of 500 million Chinese were utilizing smartphones to access the internet near the end of last year, up from 410 million at the end of 2012, according to China Internet Network Information centre, a government agency. Many analysts are forecasting that the mobile internet may one day take over the traditional internet in popularity.
Yu Yongfu, UCWeb’s Chairman and CEO, said “every commonly used search engine in the marketplace today was developed for the desktop, and offers a mobile interface that is only skin deep. By taking a mobile first approach to search, Shenma will integrate search technology into the full scope of user experiences.”
UCWeb currently holds a controlling stake in Shenma, Mr.Yu further elaborated during an interview on Monday. He declined to disclose on how much had been spent on the project.
While Mr.Yu will be the Chairm and of JV, there is no one yet to be chose for the role of CEO, he said. Shenma’s search engine is based on Alibaba’s very own search engine Yisou. Alibaba will also be supplying additional user data to the project in order to help refine the search results.
“By the end of the year mobile search queries will surpass desktop search queries” Mr Yu told a press conference on Monday “mobile search is a new area, there is no king. Everyone is at the same starting line.”
“We are a mobile centric company. We believe the internet will be centered around mobile rather than desktop browser” said Mr Yu
Baidu has invested aggressively in mobile internet, with their intentions being clearly on taking hegemony in search to the mobile internet. last summer it had acquired 91 Wireless, a mobile application store, for $1.9 billion.
Alibaba is expected to file for an initial public offering in the next few days which is expected to be one of the largest ever listings. Some analysts have valued the company at anywhere from $80bn to $200bn.