Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal told an interesting story about how Google Chrome is actually losing market share in some parts of the world – not just in China (where other reasons were at play). What is more surprising was the name of competitor that is pushing them out. It’s someone you may not have heard of: the UC browser.
A friend who was formerly a senior executive at UC visited us last week, where he shared the backstory of how this relatively unknown company challenged Google Chrome in India and Indonesia.
Started in 2004, UC Browser was developed solely as a mobile web browser by UCWeb, a company which was later acquired by Alibaba. If you compare this with Google Chrome, which launched its desktop and mobile versions in 2008 and 2012 respectively, UC browser was much earlier to the game.
Having a the longer history does not suggest an absolute victory for UC Browser, it has a few other tricks up its sleeve. Compared with Google Chrome (125 MB), UC browser is about 1/4 the file size (31 MB), and it allows users to disable adverts and optimized the response time.
This was critical in the developing market as the average storage size of devices in Asia is 12 GB compared to the minimum size of 32 GB in the US.
Also, anyone who has been to India would know that in most places the network is not as reliable as you would have in developed countries. In order to cater for more consumption of videos over mobile, UC Browser had been paying particular attention to ensuring that its video loading speed is faster than that of Chrome’s.
The result? UC browser became the leader of mobile browser in three of the most populous countries: China, India, and Indonesia.
That was a key reason why Alibaba decided to acquire them. However, four years on, UC Web is apparently in a big mess due to various other reasons which we will analyze in another piece.
Nonetheless, in the developing countries where the majority of the population cannot afford high-end smartphones, mobile manufacturers were smart to develop light version devices to sell better in those markets. App developers such as UC are also smart enough to develop light apps to work with such phones.
The cheap revolution
How many of you are familiar with the trinity of Android, Android One, and Android Go?
There is actually a page titled “Android is for everyone” on the Google website, explaining the initiatives of these products. The Android One program first set out from India in 2014, addressing the inexpensive hardware, basic software, and weak connectivity issues that customers encounter especially in developing countries. In addition to a set of guidelines for the manufacturers to make low cost phones, Google partners with telecommunications operators, (such as with India’s Airtel) and users are allowed to download up to 200MB per month from Google Play through a special bundle.
The other program called “Android Go” came out three years later, and was even more ambitious. It created a light-weight OS designed to run on devices with less than 1 GB of memory. The system also has functions to cope with limited data connectivity and multilingual users. Possibly the more brilliant idea was that Google actually rebuilt the core suite of Google apps (like Gmail, Chrome and Drive) to be optimised for such devices. Their target is now the billions of people who have yet to connect to the Internet and will use these Android Go powered phones as their first mobile experience.
The ‘lite’ weight for everything
It is important to note that “lite” is NOT a new phenomenon. In early days of Windows, when computer storage was small and dial-up connection slow, software developers were already working on ‘lite’ version of their packages, such as this:
Of course, speed of fixed-line internet and cost of storage of desktop computers have both improved drastically, rendering the size of software packages hardly noticeable to the users.
The advent of mobile opens another front, a lot of frontier users are brought onto the internet through smartphones, and a new set of lite tools are coming out to reduce friction and acquire more customers.
Unlike many New Year Resolutions of losing weight, the trend of reducing the size of apps is actually coming to fruition. It is estimated that by 2020, 70% of the world will own a smartphone, compared to ten years ago when there was only 1%. There will certainly be more mobile devices in the future by the trend of cheaper devices becoming available.
To fill the gap for people in the developing countries with smaller purchasing power and less developed infrastructure, companies like UC Browser are providing solutions to cater for these users. Facebook, Skype, Twitter, Uber and Youtube (Go) are all providing “Lite version” apps to compete for the mass of users in these countries – because after all, their business models are based around views and clicks, so they want as many users as possible, and making visiting as easy as possible.
In other words, if you want to succeed – especially in the developing markets – a simple tool that can get the job done as easily as possible, and is tailored for the users restrictions, is more valuable than a full suite of functions that are bulky, and slow.
Of course, nothing beats going to the market yourself, looking at how people are using the products, and then coming out with your winning formula.
That’s exactly what UC Browser did – you ask their veterans, many are our good friends, in India and Indonesia – their in-depth understanding about users is simply impressive.
Thanks for reading The Low Down, insight and inside knowledge from the team at Momentum Works. If you’d like to get in touch with us about any issues discussed in our blog, please drop us an email at [email protected] and let us know how we can help.