Chinese search engine Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU) has teamed up with mobile telco Orange (NYSE:FTE) to bring its Android web browser to north Africa and the Middle East. The app, called El Browzer for its new markets, is a reworking of the Baidu Mobile Browser that was initially made for Chinese smartphone owners.
Baidu’s El Browzer is available in Arabic, English, and French, and will come preinstalled or be made available for download on all Orange Android devices across Africa and the Middle East (AMEA). The new browser is already available today for Mobinil, Egypt’s France Télécom-Orange subsidiary, and is the version we’ve tested out in these screenshots; other versions across the region will roll out in due course. Orange has nearly 80 million customers in AMEA.
The Baidu Browser app is also available in a general global version for Android. That’s a direct challenge to Opera, as well as Chinese rival Tencent whose QQ Browser has over 16 million overseas users. But China-made UC Browser is way ahead with over 400 million global users.
Baidu’s director of international communications, Kaiser Kuo, tells TechinAsia that Southeast Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and Latin America are already established as the “three chief target areas” for the company at the moment. Baidu’s links portal, Hao123, has had an Arabic version (see here) for about a year, and, Kaiser adds, its “user uptake has outpaced our expectations” thus far.
Orange’s senior VP for AMEA, Marc Rennard, said in today’s announcement:
The appetite for mobile internet services is very strong in Africa, for example demand for Android devices in Egypt has doubled in the second half of this year. Price and access have been a barrier to entry, but partnering with innovative companies like Baidu provide unique solutions that give our customers affordable access to all the services they desire without compromising on features or ease-of-use. Building on the partnerships we’ve signed with major brands such as Wikipedia and Facebook in AMEA, we continue to innovate in Africa and honour our commitment to make the internet accessible to all customers across our footprint.
This browser deal across AMEA does not include Baidu’s own search engine, and the new browser app – in the Mobinil version for Egypt, at least – defaults to Google Egypt in Arabic.
When Baidu massively revamped the original Chinese incarnation of this browser in September of last year, the company boasted that it’s currently the fastest mobile browser at HTML5 rendering with a HTML5 test score of 482. For some reason, El Browzer only scored 295 for us using the same test.
Last year we saw Baidu open a research lab in Singapore that focuses on natural language processing technology for Southeast Asia. That suggests Baidu will bring its search to markets like Vietnam and Thailand in the near future. But, for now, Baidu has been focusing on expanding other products, such as the afore-mentioned Hao123, the Tieba social forums (which recently proved controversial in Vietnam), and some desktop security apps that are being aimed at users in Thailand.