UCWeb started in 2004 in Beijing as a mobile browser built to address what Yu calls the “4 restrictions (screen size, bandwidth, input method, and battery) and 3 mores (more OSs, devices, and networks)” of mobile Internet. To solve these problems, it pioneered the use of client-server mixed architecture in mobile browsers, the technology now used to turbocharge Amazon Silk and many other browsers. Today, it’s China’s leading mobile browser with 56% market share according to StatCounter.
Overall, the firm claims 200 million total monthly active users, 100 million smartphone users, and 50 million Android users. That’s 70% of Android users in China.
Emerging Markets First
This year, UCWeb is making a big push in emerging markets, especially in Southeast Asia. It has over 20% market share in India and over 10% in five other markets. Its first overseas office is in India and it aims to overtake Opera as the #1 browser there by the end of the year.
It’s easier for Chinese companies to understand conditions in developing markets, says Yu. Many users are first-time smartphone owners and browse via limited mobile data networks.
Developed Markets Next
Emerging markets are UCWeb’s first focus, but the US and Europe are next. It’ll open an office in the US later this year.
Developed markets are usually more difficult for Chinese firms to crack: UCWeb previously tried in Japan and Korea without much success. But it’s by no means impossible: Dolphin Browser, another Chinese company, has strong momentum in the US and other developed markets.
UCWeb has developed a number of new features designed for these markets, including an RSS reader. At the Global Mobile Internet Conference in Beijing, UCWeb announced a partnership with EverNote to develop a browser plugin for the note-taking service.
Yu believes feature localization is key to any market. In China, for example, UCWeb features a “night mode” so that students in a dormitory can browse in a dark room without disrupting others–or being discovered by the authorities.
To get its browser in the hands of users, UCWeb relies 70% upon user downloads and the rest come from handset pre-installs and other partnerships. UCWeb has a strong relationship with many of the Chinese OEMs who are selling affordable handsets in emerging markets.
Since starting internationalization in 2009, UCWeb currently has a total of 40 million international users, but has plans for many more. Within 5 years, Mr. Yu hopes to reach one billion monthly active users.
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