As mobile Internet infrastructure becomes more sophisticated and as adoption of smartphones skyrockets in Asia and in the US, the importance of useful software will become paramount for users. Well-designed mobile browsers will also be chief among their demands.
One Chinese developer in particular, UCWeb, recognizes this. In its 8 years of existence, UCWeb has managed to become the most popular mobile browser in China, reaching more than 300 million users. Since 2009, they have been expanding abroad, already reaching 60 million users internationally. UCBrowser is now available in 7 different languages and enjoys more than 10% market share in 6 countries, including 23% in India.
Yu Yongfu, the mastermind and CEO behind UCWeb, will be speaking at GMIC SV this October. We asked him a few questions about his hopes and plans for UCWeb below.
1) UCWeb is the most popular mobile browser in China. When will it catch on in the US?
The US is an important market for mobile internet, yet it’s very different from China or other emerging markets, where we’ve already established ourselves. We’ve been actively working on a US market strategy and have also introduced a trial U.S. version of the UC Browser. We will familiarize ourselves with the US users’ habits and the local industry, and will finalize our strategy in the coming months after we gain a more solid grasp.
2) What do you think about Baidu’s recent entrance into the mobile browser market?
Baidu’s mobile browser has been around for more than a year; however, Baidu hasn’t been able to establish a meaningful presence in this space. This new product release again signifies the importance that Baidu attaches to mobile browsers. Competition over products will benefit mobile Internet users with an improved mobile browsing experience, which is also in line with UCWeb’s ultimate goal to improve product innovation.
Industry leaders like Google, Baidu, and Tencent have released their own mobile browsers over the past a few years, which proves that UCWeb’s judgment on the value of a mobile browser was right 8 years ago when we were founded. The continued steady development of UCWeb in the last two years proves that it may take a long time for users to recognize product innovation. UCWeb will continue to drive innovation throughout the company to maintain its innovative power and leadership in China and the world.
3) What do you plan to speak about at GMIC SV?
I will talk about the differences between the Chinese and Asian markets versus the US market, and why and how UCWeb can help US companies to explore the mobile Internet market opportunities in Asia.
4) Where do you see mobile Internet going in the next year? In the next 5 years?
In China, and in emerging markets, cell phones are rapidly becoming the No.1 entry point to the Internet. For many, cell phones are the only vehicle to gain Internet access. Mobile Internet is now a synonym for the Internet.
Mobile Internet is still on a steep growth curve. The number of mobile Internet users will see exponential growth in many emerging market countries such as India, Vietnam, and Indonesia. Mobile Internet is going beyond news reading and instant messaging. More and more people are using their cell phones for games and shopping. Vertical segments such as games and shopping will grow faster than the other segments in the mobile Internet industry in the future.
Mobile Internet is spreading the coverage of the Internet to a vast population. In the next 5 years, mobile Internet will cover half of the world’s population, and our goal by then is to serve 1 billion users.
5) How do you perceive your company’s role in new markets abroad?
We view ourselves as a platform, an ecosystem leader. Based on UC Browser, we have built a one stop shop for mobile Internet services, serving users on four independent yet interconnected platforms: Information Services, Application Distribution, Mobile Social Networks, and Mobile Games.
In addition, we have also built a strong ecosystem in China and select emerging markets to provide better localized mobile Internet services to users in these markets. In other emerging markets, we will leverage our experience gained in markets such as China and India to quickly grow our user base and build the localized ecosystem. For the US market, we’ve made attempts to familiarize ourselves with the users and the local industry, and we aim to serve users with differentiated technologies and user experiences.
6) What are some of the trends you anticipate for platforms, for instance Android/iOS/WP for the next year?
Android has become the dominant mobile OS globally in 2012. Next year, it will further solidify its leadership position. iOS will keep its growth momentum into 2013, and WP will see some growth as well, but I do not see a clear pattern as to how it will make a big impact in the consumer market.
Apart from the shifts in the mobile OS’s, I predict a rise of Web Apps in the mobile Internet industry. Moving forward, more and more people will access the Internet with the mobile browser on their cell phones.
Looking at history, Internet surfing on the PC went through three stages. The first stage was browser centered, the second stage was client-app centered, and last but not least, the third stage went back to browsers.
The return from apps to browsers in Internet surfing can be attributed to three reasons, which are also valid for the evolution of web surfing on cell phones.
a) The outbreak of security issues. Installing an app means opening up a myriad of ports, which is like punching holes in a wall. Cell phones are closely connected to users’ identity and financial information, which attracts thieves. Security issues on cell phones are much more serious.
b) Users want the functionality or service that an app provides, but not the app itself. With Internet browsers becoming more capable, Flash-based games can run on browsers, videos can also be played on browsers. For a long time, people used dedicated software to play video; however, with the popularity of YouTube, users are now accustomed to watching videos through a browser. They may not need a standalone video player at all. The apps are still here and are gradually morphing into web apps.
c) Application development should be standardized. Today, we need to develop for different platforms including Android, iOS, Symbian. It takes too many resources for developers to do this. Additionally, users are reluctant to update their apps too frequently. For web apps, it’s “develop once, run on multiple platforms”, saving users from annoyingly frequent updates.
I believe both web apps and client apps will see rapid growth in the coming three years; however, web apps will become more dominant.