C&B Notes

Browser for the Next Billion

UC Browser, hardly known and barely used in the United States, is one of Asia’s most liked browsers.  Its popularity stems its features designed with the world’s “next billion” users in mind.

Hundreds of millions of people in India, Indonesia and other emerging markets getting online for the first time are picking UC Browser, owned by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, over ones made by U.S. rivals.  Users say UC Browser works better in countries dominated by low-end smartphones and spotty mobile service.  “It’s faster, it takes up less memory, and it looks better” than Chrome, said Rizky Ari Prasetya, a 20-year-old Jakarta resident who recently ditched Chrome for UC Browser.

India and Indonesia are among the last, great untapped markets for internet users.  Just 30% of India’s 1.3 billion people are online, and only 25% of Indonesia’s 260 million use the web, according to the International Telecommunication Union, a United Nations body.  UC Browser, which has more than 430 million users world-wide, accounted for 51% of India’s mobile browser market over the past year, compared with 30% for Chrome, according to web analytics firm StatCounter.  In Indonesia, UC Browser led Chrome by 41% to 32% during the period.

Chrome has more than a billion users world-wide, according to Google, and it has some 47% global market share versus UC Browser’s 16%, according to StatCounter.  In the U.S., Chrome has 39% market share, behind Apple Inc.’s Safari browser, which has 52%.  UC Browser has less than 1% market share in the U.S.

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One reason for UC Browser’s success is its tiny app size and portal-like approach to showing news, scores from sports like cricket and soccer and other content.  New web surfers tend to do more through their browsers, and they prefer apps that don’t take up much space on their phones, an insight UC Browser caught onto early.  Many smartphones in Asia’s developing markets have just 12 gigabytes of storage, half of the global average and far below the U.S. standard of 32 gigabytes, said Neil Shah, an analyst with research firm Counterpoint.

The UC Browser app takes up 31 megabytes of space, compared with Chrome’s 125 megabytes, said Tiago Costa Alves, Asia Pacific vice president at independent Android app store Aptoide.  Alibaba’s mobile browser, UC Browser, has a larger market share than Google’s Chrome in India and Indonesia, where many of the world’s ‘next billion users’ are getting online for the first time…

UC Browser strives to be “the first window to view the internet” for new web consumers by letting them surf the web using fewer clicks and less data, said Damon Xi, the Alibaba executive overseeing UC Browser’s expansion in India and Indonesia.  Mr. Xi said the company’s research has shown that in addition to a smaller app size, users need features such as data compression and ad blocking to conserve mobile bandwidth usage.

Google appears to be taking notice.  In 2017 alone, its next billion users group, which targets emerging markets, has made more than 40 tweaks and launches of products.  Some recent updates to Chrome include making the app and its data usage smaller and adding icons on the home screen that can be clicked to visit popular websites rather than having to type in web addresses, two features UC Browser has offered for some time.  Those adjustments may be working, with Chrome’s market share in India and Indonesia increasing in recent months, according to StatCounter.



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