Baidu acquires Android app distributor 91 Wireless for $1.9B
Chinese search giant Baidu is purchasing mobile app distribution platform 91 Wireless from online gaming and mobile Internet provider NetDragon Websoft. The deal is valued at $1.9 billion, Baidu's largest acquisition to date.
Six-year-old 91 Wireless operates Android app marketplaces 91 Assistant and HiMarket as well as other services and community sites targeting the smartphone user segment. With the Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Play digital storefront still unavailable in the Chinese market, 91 Wireless has generated app download totals in excess of 10 billion: Independent research firm iResearch ranks the firm as China's leading third-party app distribution platform by both active users and accumulated downloads.
Baidu controls about 80 percent of China's search market by sales, and has made moves to expand its dominance to the mobile channel via efforts like a mobile content joint venture with Japanese operator NTT DoCoMo and Explorer, a browser promising Android device users significant speed and performance enhancements designed to improve online gameplay and video consumption. Last year, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) also replaced Google with Baidu as its default mobile search provider in China. But Baidu has struggled to gain a mobile foothold in its native market, where consumers still strongly prefer searching on the desktop.
Mark Natkin, managing director of tech research firm Marbridge Consulting, told The Wall Street Journal that Baidu can leverage its search expertise to help improve mobile application discovery, in turn generating revenue by boosting sales of apps and games. "Baidu has come to the realization that mobile search doesn't work the same way that Web search does. It's seeing an increasing amount of its traffic go mobile, but advertiser interest in mobile search marketing is not very robust," Natkin said. "More than that, they realize they probably need a more diverse product portfolio."
China is the world's largest mobile market, with more than 300 million subscribers. Android powers more than half of all smartphones in China, researcher Kantar Worldpanel ComTech recently reported.
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