Last year, Google took action against Alibaba’s Aliyun OS ahead of a scheduled device launch with Acer. The spat became a highly public one as Android boss Andy Rubin and Alibaba’s CTO exchanged words.
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Rejecting Google’s claims that Aliyun OS is a forked version of Android, Alibaba pledged not to deviate from its mobile strategy. The company did, however, move to put some distance between it and Aliyun OS by spinning off the division.
Alibaba’s strength in ecommerce and cloud computing usually results in comparisons to eBay and Amazon as western equivalents, but, as it diversifies its product portfolio, it’s increasingly coming into direct competition with Google. The new Aliyun search site, for example, offers specific searches for news, pictures and a beta version of maps. Alibaba began integrating Aliyun’s mapping service into its Taobao C2C marketplace last October.
An Aliyun spokesperson confirmed that the search engine is developed and maintained by the Aliyun Business Unit, but declined to comment further.
This isn’t the first time that Alibaba has jumped into the search game. It teamed up with Microsoft on a shopping-focused eTao search engine in 2010. The company also had early help from Yahoo, which used to control a 40% stake in Alibaba and has licensed its partner to operate the Yahoo China brand. Alibaba is taking steps to regain more control, initiating a program to buy back Yahoo’s stake.
It’s worth noting that Google’s not the only target here. Chinese search leader Baidu will also face increased competition from an Aliyun-powered search engine. Baidu also operates its own cloud-focused mobile operating system, but it layers the OS on top of Android in order to remain compatible and stay on friendlier terms with Google.
After Google left the Chinese search market in 2010, Baidu had a relatively unchallenged position. Last summer, Qihoo 360 stepped onto the scene with the launch of its own search service. The Baidu/Qihoo rivalry heated up rather quickly, and the government eventually intervened by establishing some industry ground rules for competition.
The next few months will be eventful ones for Alibaba as its founder Jack Ma is set to step down in May. Earlier this year, the company restructured into 25 smaller divisions in order to enable faster responses to competitive threats and provide additional opportunities for its leaders to develop. Ma himself has said that he wants to step aside for the “next generation” of Alibaba management. As he does so, his replacement will inherit an ecommerce empire big enough to go up against US tech companies.
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