Baidu unveils low-end smartphone with cloud platform

The Changhong H5018 comes with the Baidu Cloud Smart Terminal platform

Baidu, which runs China's most popular search engine, has unveiled its newest smartphone, featuring the company's own mobile platform and priced to target the country's low-end handset segment.

The Changhong H5018 will be priced at about $158 without a contract, the company said Tuesday. The device marks the second smartphone the company has released, the last one being a handset developed in cooperation with U.S. PC maker Dell that was announced in December.

Baidu's last smartphone, the Dell Streak Pro D43, was priced three times higher than the H5018 at 2,999 yuan, and was marketed toward business users and young trendsetters.

This time, Baidu has partnered with Chinese handset vendor Changhong to create a new handset, which was manufactured by Foxconn. The phone is built with a 3.5-inch (8.89-centimeter) touchscreen and has a 3-megapixel camera along with a 1,400mAh battery.

The less than 1,000 yuan price-tag puts the smartphone in a market segment that analysts believe will have the fastest growth in China. Currently, only about 15% of China's 1 billion mobile phone subscribers are using 3G services, according to government statistics. But this is expected to change as consumers move toward more affordable smartphones.

The Changhong H5018 also incorporates the Chinese search giant's latest mobile handset platform, Baidu Cloud, which has supplanted the company's previous mobile platform "Baidu Yi," according to company spokesman Kaiser Kuo.

The company refrains from calling Baidu Cloud its own mobile operating system. The platform is based on the Linux OS, can run Android apps and is localized for Chinese users. "The main thing about Baidu Cloud is that it's more geared toward running cloud-based apps rather than native apps," Kuo said in an email.

Baidu has created the platform to run a whole suite of mobile products that connect to the company's online search, music, mapping services and more. Along with these services, the smartphone comes with 100GB of free personal storage through Baidu.

Baidu declined to offer a specific launch date for the device, saying only that it would arrive in the very near future. The company said it was working with other "mainstream mobile brands" to install the Baidu Cloud platform on other smartphones.

The Chinese search giant is launching its new smartphone as more Internet service providers in the country work on releasing their own handsets pre-installed with company services. Last month, a subsidiary under Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group launched a new smartphone using the company's Aliyun OS.

Chinese companies including Baidu and Alibaba are still in the early stages of mobile product development and are experimenting with various business models, said Nicole Peng, an analyst with research firm Canalys. This comes as U.S.-based Google has partially withdrawn from China, making its Google Play Store unavailable for the country. "In the absence of Google in China, (Chinese companies) have good potential to provide a Google-like user experience in the mobile space," Peng said.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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