China's Alibaba Group has decided to power app searches for its mobile operating system using technology from U.S.-based Quixey, a company in which it invested.
Quixey, which runs a mobile app by the same name, made the announcement on Friday, a year after it received funding from Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant perhaps best known for its huge IPO on the New York Stock Exchange last month.
Unlike typical Web search engines, Quixey is geared at helping users find the most appropriate mobile apps they need. In addition, it can locate content and functions stored on mobile apps. For example, a user could query "taxi booking" to find the related services.
Friday's partnership means that the U.S. company will become the sole provider of app-related searching on YunOS, Alibaba's mobile operating system, said Quixey in a statement.
Most of Quixey's users come from the U.S., but the company hopes to grow in China with the Alibaba partnership, said its chief operating officer Guru Gowrappan in an interview.
"We want to become a common mobile search platform in China for several different partners," he said, adding that Quixey is not limiting itself to Alibaba for potential tie-ups.
Alibaba declined to comment. But the company first unveiled its mobile OS back in mid-2011. Since then smartphone use has grown in China, and the devices have become the number one way the country's user access the Internet.
Alibaba's YunOS, however, still hasn't gained much traction in the Chinese smartphone market, and its market share has been below 1 percent in recent quarters, said Kiranjeet Kaur, an analyst at research firm IDC.
"There are just a handful of vendors bringing phones using this OS, and those too are not very well known ones," she added in an email. Google's Android OS remains the dominant operating system in the country.
Next week Alibaba is slated to make new announcements regarding its YunOS, including a new phone, according to a company website.
Over the last year, the Chinese e-commerce giant has been making investments in U.S. tech companies, including in online retail, mobile messaging and gaming. Analysts speculate Alibaba could end up partnering with these U.S. firms to buttress its business in China.
Quixey's COO said Alibaba has been a strong supporter of the company and its vision for better app searching. "Mobile search is broken today," Gowrappan said, adding that current search engines rely too much on product names to find apps. Quixey hopes to change that by focusing on searching for app functionality, and what users hope to do with their smartphones.
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