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Baidu announces new virtual assistant to compete with Google Now on Android

Chinese search giant Baidu announced its own virtual assistant at its annual World Conference earlier this week. Named Duer, which roughly translates into Du Secretary, it is the first Chinese competitor to go against Siri, Cortana, and Google Now.

Baidu Duer will be available on the Android search app. It will initially provide services for three categories: dining, movies, and pets, but more categories will be available in the near future, including health care, education, and finance.

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Baidu chief executive officer Robin Li demonstrated the capabilities of Duer by asking it to find a nice restaurant in the Gulou area that allows pets. The virtual assistant was able to locate a restaurant and send a reservation without any issues.

Comparing it to the three main virtual assistants in the United States, Baidu Duer is quite basic. It is less about information and more about connecting users with services and businesses, creating an autonomous middleman to do all the heavy lifting.

It is hard for Baidu to implement the same level of integration as Siri on iOS, Google Now on Android or Cortana on Windows, since it does not have its own mobile platform. Baidu may build its own Duer app in the future or add the virtual assistant into a real-life robot.

Baidu invested $3 billion into creating online-to-offline services in the next three years. Duer is a crucial part of that investment, allowing Baidu’s 700 million mobile users to find and connect to businesses.

Baidu Maps will also receive Duer integration, alongside group-buying service Nuomi. Baidu intends to add Duer to all of its services, getting past the current rut of platform integration.

Google plans to bring back its Google Play services to Android in China. This could hurt Baidu Duer’s growth in the future, especially if Chinese manufacturers like Xiaomi and Huawei promote Google Now.