At its annual show for technology and innovation today, Baidu announced ‘Light App’ strategy. According to Baidu’s introduction, you don’t need to download a Light App but can use it directly after it shows up as a search result — sounds just like WebApp. So app developers have to convert their native apps into a WebApp to Baidu’s standards or use the app builder provided by Baidu if they think the upcoming Light App store is an important app distribution channel.
Explaining why Baidu would do so, Robin Li, CEO of Baidu, blamed the existing native app store model, saying 1) 99.9% apps combined only account for 30% of the total downloads while the 0.1% enjoys 70% of the total. It’s hard for newly released apps to stand out; 2) use rate of downloaded apps in smartphones is low.
Well, the reasoning isn’t sound at all. Take the website world where a website is searchable and can be used directly. Any of us only knows a limited number of websites and use even fewer regularly.
Baidu isn’t alone touting WebApp, hoping to change the mechanism of the mobile Internet world. Mobile browsers in particular want that to avoid the fact that they have been becoming less and less relevant — users don’t have to open a mobile browser in order to access digital content or services. Both UCWeb and Dolphin browser launched WebApp stores earlier this year.
It seems Baidu always wants to become a content provider rather than a pure search tool. Four years ago at the same event, Robin Li announced Box Computing that the first search result will show the web service directly if Baidu judges what a user searches for is the one; for instance, if you type in the name of a movie, the first search result will be a video that you can click launch directly. Or you can download an app directly with the first search result. That’s also seen as why Baidu acquired online video provider iQiyi and bought controlling stake in online travel search and service provider Qunar.
Baidu didn’t disclose how much the Box Computing drove search traffic or advertising revenues — they must have disclosed it if Box Computing made dramatic changes. Doesn’t the Box Computing strategy sound a lot like the Light App one? It’s unknown whether WebApp will be widely adopted in near future in China. After Chinese game developers found that they could create more complicated web games, or browser games, with advanced tech support like HTML5, web game became explosive around 2012. Baidu must want users to accept WebApps like gamers went with browser games.