Chinese search giant Baidu has announced a new version of its maps service today that will allow users to chat and share their real-time location.
Version 5.1 of Baidu maps will be available either next Tuesday or Wednesday for Android, while the iOS version will depend on the Apple app store’s approval date, according to a Baidu spokeswoman.
A report by Tencent Tech says that with the location-sharing capability, users can invite friends into a group where they can track each other’s location and chat within the app. To ensure a certain degree of privacy, each group-sharing session will expire automatically within two hours.
This latest update to its maps app by Baidu marks a clear move toward pushing its social strategy, as not even Google Maps allows for in-app chatting currently. Baidu had last year made steps to collaborate with the popular Sina Weibo microblogging service, announcing a new partnership to swap mobile and cloud-based search and content across their respective platforms.
Baidu’s latest maps version also boasts indoor navigation – useful for places such as within shopping malls. On the app, users can determine where exactly they are (which level and which shop unit), and thus find a specific store they might want to visit. Baidu has already tied up with several merchants including Wanda and Capitaland, the Tencent Tech report says.
Furthermore, Baidu has also partnered with taxi-finding smartphone apps including Didi Dache, Kuaide Dache and Yaoyao Zhaoche to share their location-based services function, the report adds.
Chinese tech firms have been zooming in on the potential of maps services and pushing for more social interaction to bump up their appeal. Earlier this month, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba paid $294 million for a 28 percent share in Beijing-based auto navigation firm AutoNavi, and last month it invested $586 million to grab an 18 percent share of Sina’s microblogging service Weibo.
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