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Baidu shells out $1.9bn for Android app distie in 'China's biggest IT deal'

'Backup' app store augments Chinese search engine's existing fandroid funhouse

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Baidu has signed a $1.9bn deal to buy Android app distributor 91 Wireless, giving the Chinese search giant a second Android app store and, critically, a bigger footprint in the gaming business.

Chinese search giant Baidu announced its intention to buy 91 Wireless last month, despite already having its own Android application store which will, the company told Tech In Asia, remain separate.

The acquisition is really about games. The majority shareholder of 91 Wireless was internet-games giant Netdragon, though the $1.9bn will have to be shared with the minority shareholders also bought out with Baidu cash.

Chinese Android users are downloading 69 million apps every day from the stores run by Baidu and 91 Wireless. Apple and Android users worldwide download around twice that number of apps, but not in China: Apple's power in the Middle Kingdom is limited and Baidu fills Google's role in search, as well as platform delivery.

Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Google isn't banned or blocked in China, but its Hong Kong servers are very slow and unreliable thanks to careful traffic-shaping by the authorities. From the other side of the Great Firewall, Google just isn't very good, while Baidu is fast and convenient.

But Baidu's mobile strategy has hitherto lacked shape, allowing other companies to gain a foothold in the exploding mobile market. 91 Wireless has got itself into the Baidu fold, but other competitors are unlikely to be so lucky. ®

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