Microsoft to give mainland its own little bit of Bing

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 March, 2011, 12:00am

Software giant Microsoft Corp plans a major launch on the mainland this year for the advanced, Chinese-language version of its Bing search engine as it aims for broad adoption in the domestic e-commerce and smartphone markets.

The internet search product, which has been in beta tests on the mainland since its worldwide release in June 2009, will be 'much-improved and very competitive', said Zhang Yaqin, a corporate vice-president at Microsoft and the chairman of its Asia-Pacific research and development group.

The domestic launch will form part of the United States-based company's increased focus this year on growing its underperforming internet services business on the mainland, which has the world's biggest internet population at 457 million users as of December.

The country also has the largest mobile phone services market, with 842 million subscribers as of the same month.

'We need to get a foothold in this market,' Zhang said. 'Are we realising the potential of 1.3 billion people? Absolutely not yet.'

Zhang said internet services on the mainland are dominated by local companies.

Beijing-based Baidu, for example, is the leading internet search services provider in the country.

Market research firm Analysys International estimated that Baidu's share on the mainland reached 75.5 per cent in the fourth quarter last year, while global search giant Google had a 19.6 per cent share of the internet search market in the same period.

Shanghai MSN Network Communications Technology, a joint venture formed in 2005 between Microsoft and the city government-backed Shanghai Alliance Investment, will lead the marketing and distribution of the Chinese-language Bing search service.

Zhang said the Microsoft research and development team is working with partners who make the hardware for Bing, including smartphones, personal computers, media tablets and television.

'At present, a lot more effort is directed at the English-language market,' Zhang said. 'We now have a lot more people working in the Chinese search engine, so you'll see more products in the coming months.'

Bing Dictionary, known on the mainland as Engkoo, was a joint project between Microsoft Research Asia, led by Zhang, and the international Microsoft Bing team, and represented the most recent local success generated from the mainland beta tests.

It provides a language assistance system to help Chinese users master English as a native speaker might. Although programmed to discover and analyse billions of Web pages with high-quality translations between English and Chinese, this technology can be extended to other languages.

Zhang said Bing's 'more intuitive and target-driven' approach to online search is expected to be valuable to the mainland's growing mobile search market, as the use of internet-ready smartphones and media tablets grows.

Microsoft's research and development team on the mainland has long been working on a Chinese-language mobile search version of Bing, which is available in English for mobile devices sold in the US, Australia and Britain.

Zhang declined to provide details of how the Chinese-language version of Bing mobile search would be integrated into the partnership between Microsoft and Nokia that was announced last month.

Nokia, the world's leading mobile-phone manufacturer, remains the leading mobile handset brand on the mainland.

According to Microsoft's branding programme, Bing is pronounced in Putonghua as 'Bee-ying', which is based on the last two characters of a Chinese proverb that means 'ask and you shall find'.