June 14, 2010
Baidu is hoping to tighten its grip on online mapping in China, a sector that is poised to be redrawn in the coming months.
The State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping plans to start issuing licenses this month for online map services. The bureau announced the new requirement in May, and any providers who do not obtain a license by the end of the year will have to shut down their service. There are thousands of operators competing in China’s rapidly growing online map industry, and the licensing system will serve to pare down the overcrowding. But even ahead of the housecleaning, Baidu has emerged as the clear leader. In April, the consulting group iResearch estimated that Baidu had control of over 55 percent of the online mapping market in China. That came about three months after Baidu added a link for maps on its home page, in a move that essentially announced the company would work to capture the industry. Since then, evidence of that effort has come in spades. The product manager for Baidu Maps, Huang Wei, said the company has invested heavily in building and updating data for its mapping service. It was first in providing subway route information ahead of the Shanghai World Expo 2010, and it also released a 3D Expo map. Last month Baidu released a beta version of its mapping service for the Windows Mobile operating system, which will enable it to gain support among the country’s mobile Internet users. The China Internet Network Information Center estimated there were 233 million mobile Internet users at the beginning of the year, double the amount from a year before. The previous month Baidu released an API for its mapping service. The API has enabled other developers to embed Baidu Maps on their own Web sites and will help Baidu to increase both traffic and user loyalty. Analysys International has projected revenue in the online mapping industry in China to grow to $72 million this year, compared to just $8.7 million five years before, and Baidu hopes its dominance of the Chinese search engine market will give it the upper hand in the increasingly lucrative online mapping industry.
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