Why is Baidu Maps Successful in China?
Since the appearance, smartphones are not limited to just making phone calls and texting. With the information technology growing rapidly, our phones can provide us with more functions other than communication now. With the GPS system installed in the phones, we can use the smartphone as an electronic map.
There are various map applications in the world, and Google Maps may be the most successful one. In 2013, figures from GlobalWebIndex, a digital media analyzing agency, indicated that Google Maps was installed in over 54% of smartphones in the world, making it the most popular one then.
However, in China, things are a little different. With the Chinese government banned Google in 2012, the market share of Google Maps in China has drastically decreased, with the figure being only 1.7% in 2015 Q1 (provided by Bigdata-Research.cn, an Internet research company in China).
In the mainland China, the most widely used map application is probably Baidu Maps. Figures from Bigdata-Research.cn indicates that the market share of Baidu Maps has reached 73.8% by 2015 Q2, making it the No.1 choice among the map applications in China.
The major competitor of Baidu Maps in the Chinese market may be Apple Maps, since, according to Fortune, iPhones are the third most welcomed mobile phone in China. Apple also announced in September that the Greater China region is its second largest market after the Americas. With Apple Maps pre-installed in every iPhone produced, we can assume that Apple Maps is probably used by every Apple users.
The development of Apple Maps is not smooth though. Before Apple has successfully developed its own map technology, it has been providing Google Maps as the map application for its users. However, after Google services has been banned in the mainland China, Apple had to provide a new map system for users. In 2012, the Apple Maps was released. Yet, the very beginning version was widely criticized. Consumers complained that the Apple Maps failed to give them public transportation information, made mistakes in route direction, and so on. Apple has kept improving the map system. In the release of iOS9, Apple has greatly developed Apple Maps, adding public transportation information to it.
So, will Apple Maps replace Baidu Maps in the near future? I conducted a brief survey, asking some 30 people, who has used both Apple Maps and Baidu Maps, about their user experience on the two application. The survey included several points such as public transportation information, route direction correctness, etc.
The result was within my expectation — Baidu Maps was still considered the better one. Its performance outrides that of Apple Maps in features mentioned above. According to these users, Apple Maps has a long way to go. Though the survey cannot represent the whole, it may provide some insights into the current situation of two maps.
Why does Baidu Maps remain dominant, despite the competition in the Chinese market? There may be various reasons, and I will list a few next. But after all, all reasons lead to one factor, which is the demand for Baidu Maps is larger.
First of all, as a local company, Baidu certainly knows Chinese users better. With a complete database covering demographic and geographic condition, Baidu Maps can give its users more accuracy information than other maps. As for Apple Maps, the lack of correctness in location has long been criticized, indicating its satellite technique needs further refinement. The improvement in the iOS9 version of Apple Maps does not make it more popular.
Secondly, Baidu has invested more in advertising its map application in the mainland China than Apple, Google and other industries. In 2015, Baidu has viewed Maps as one of its most important products, and has come up with an advertising strategy integration, including making advertisement posters on billboards and paying young pop icons for their endorsement, for the promotion of Baidu Maps. The promotion campaign of Baidu has attracted plenty of users, helping the map application win a fair share in the Chinese market.
Last but not least, the webpage of Baidu Maps also helps the spread of the mobile application. Basically, most of the online maps are based on smartphones, such as Apple and Autonavi, another widely-used map application in China. Only several online maps have both websites and mobile application versions, including Baidu, Tencent and Google. More sources means the demand of the application increases simultaneously.
After all, the advertising and developing strategy of Baidu Maps was so successful that it has largely boosted the demand in the market, making it the most popular map application in China.