* Baidu platform to support development of apps
* To offer on mobile devices in future
* Part of increasingly crowded China mobile Internet space
* Baidu pushing to diversify from search
* Launches new homepage; CEO says negative impact on revenue possible (Adds Sohu interview with CEO, detail)
By Melanie Lee
BEIJING, Sept 2 (Reuters) - China’s top search engine Baidu Inc offered a glimpse of its upcoming mobile operating system and launched a new mobile application platform on Friday aimed at bolstering its presence in the increasingly competitive mobile web market.
The platform, named Baidu Yi, will enable third-party application developers to create apps such as games, maps and other tools that they can distribute in a similar way to Apple Inc’s App store.
Baidu Yi is modelled on Google’s Android mobile operating system and will be rolled out to mobile devices in the future.
The company also launched its new homepage which will add four features, including social networking functions.
However, Baidu CEO Robin Li was quoted as saying the new homepage could have a negative impact on its revenue by requiring users to register a Baidu account, reducing traffic on the site. The new homepage, with more links and content, could also affect loading speed.
“We don’t know how negative it will be,” Li said in an interview with Internet portal SohuIT.
“No matter how big the loss would be, this represents the future of the industry. If we don’t do it, others might; if we don’t do it now, you might be forced to do it in the future; instead of waiting for others to push you, we would rather take the initiative.”
Baidu currently has around 200 million registered users, Li said.
Baidu has built on its dominance of China’s search market significantly since Google’s high-profile exit last year citing hacking and censorship concerns, and now has an over 80 percent market share.
Baidu’s Nasdaq-listed shares are up nearly 50 percent so far this year, giving it a market value of around $50 billion.
The company has also been aggressively diversifying into e-commerce, online video and online travel to bolster growth and increase competitiveness.
An array of Chinese Internet firms and telco gear makers have launched self-developed smartphones in order to gain a foothold in a market still dominated by traditional handsets and lower-end second-generation phones.
Alibaba Group, China’s largest e-commerce firm, launched a smartphone running its own mobile operating system in late July that will feature cloud-based applications and Internet search.
Huawei Technologies similarly launched its cloud computing smartphones in August, and Sina Corp recently rolled out a line of smartphones catering to users of its microblogging service Weibo. (Additional reporting by Soo Ai Peng; Writing by Kazunori Takada and Jason Subler; Editing by Lincoln Feast)