Could Apple’s Safari Get the Shaft in the Chinese Mobile Market?

Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU) is poised to take some ground in the fight for China’s mobile browser market. After launching its own mobile OS and a low-cost smartphone, the firm hopes a new Android app for its browser will claim more traffic and boost its already dominant search service. The browser is offered in both Chinese and English. Baidu claims the T5 engine powering its browser makes it about 20 percent faster than local competitor Qihoo 360 (NYSE:QIHU). But will it threaten Apple’s Safari?

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With more than 70 percent of China’s 530 million Internet users accessing the web through mobile phones, the competition for market share is brutal. China is Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) second largest market, but only claims about 2.1 percent of the country’s mobile users. It’s been working for years to build its brand and the use of iOS products in China.

China Mobile (NYSE:CHL) is China’s largest mobile provider with nearly 700 million subscribers, and while there have been rumors of a relationship between China Mobile and Apple for years, there has yet to be a compatible iPhone. Apple’s platform is already losing out to Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android in China, and the development of Baidu’s app for Android could leave Safari in the dust, discouraging users from committing to the Apple platform.

Baidu said it’s aiming for 80% saturation in Android devices by the end of the year. Competing against a technically solid, homegrown product, Safari and the Apple brand may lose some of the momentum it’s been building in the Chinese market. Investors would be wise to closely watch this horse race.

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