Competition in the smartphone and tablet market is getting tougher between Apple and Google. Apple is reportedly reducing its dependence on Google in various online and mobile services, and with recent reports that Baidu will soon be a default search engine for iOS mobile devices in China, Google might just lose its already weak hold in this market.

Breaking up with Google

Apple is already moving away from Google services in some of its core applications. With the new iPad launch, for instance, observers noted that the iPhoto app that initially launched with the new tablet did not use Google Maps, but instead uses Bing for its location services, in conjunction with Siri and a host of other service providers.

Reports from "knowledgeable sources" say that the Cupertino, CA company is likewise making a big change in other markets as well. In China, Apple is reportedly planning to introduce Baidu as an additional search option in iOS, if not the default search engine for devices released in the country by April, reports Sina Tech as cited by Tech in Asia.

China is the world's top market for Internet and mobile services, in terms of population. With about 1 billion mobile phone users, and 550 million Web users, this is a huge market, but one that still has a lot of untapped potential. Foreign firms have had some difficulty in entering this market, though, given restrictions on content, which often entails censorship and blocking. For this reason, services like Facebook and Twitter are virtually unknown here, although locally-developed apps like Sina Weibo and RenRen thrive.

For Google, China is still a significant market, even with the company relocating its operations to Hong Kong, given differences with the Chinese mainland's government. But even with Google being the dominant search engine worldwide, it has a very small share in the Chinese market. In this country, Baidu is the dominant search company, with more than 80% market share.

Not Just iOS

Apple's reported move to switch to Baidu might hurt Google's market share in this region even further. Apple is already confirmed to incorporate local services in its next release of OS X -- dubbed Mountain Lion -- which includes Baidu, Tencent QQ, Sina Weibo and video-sharing sites Youku and Tudou.

Even other platforms are benefiting from focusing on localization and localized services. Microsoft, for one, has launched its Windows Phone 7.5 "Refresh" in China, with a big focus on localized content, as well as tighter integration with local social networking services.

Neither Apple nor Baidu have confirmed the reports, although observers like The Next Web's Jon Russell agree that the move "makes a lot of sense," given that "Apple has already begun supporting local sharing options in China."

With Google potentially facing challenges in this big a market, can Apple help other search challengers make a big dent in Google's market share worldwide?