Mobile browsers are solidifying their importance amidst the mobile revolution, as more and more people access the internet via their smartphones and tablets, abandoning the desktop experience in the process.
Dolphin is one of the oldest and most popular third-party browsers for Android — we called it a “genuinely beautiful Android browser” in a roundup — currently claiming more than 100 million users worldwide. Dolphin Browser was started in the US back in 2010.
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Recently, Dolphin made a rather surprising move by announcing that it sold a 51 percent stake to Changyou, a Chinese online game developer, in return for $30 million in funding.
A mobile browser and a mobile gaming company — there is a link, but it seems rather tenuous. We caught up with Edith Yeung, the vice president of international business development at Dolphin, who assured us that Dolphin will remain an independent company. She told TNW that there are interesting synergies between the two firms that could see the browser become much more than just a window to the web — indeed Dolphin has ambitions to become a central place where users launch most of their content (and that includes games).
Dolphin as a portal
Though Dolphin faces a lot of competition in the mobile browser world, Yeung acknowledged the success of its rival UCWeb — which was acquired entirely by Alibaba in June this year — for being a “content aggregator.” She said that Dolphin is striving to become more like UCWeb, in the sense that it is a portal for everything.
UCWeb has been very successful because they’re basically a content aggregator — if you look at the China version it’s basically a gigantic site map and people access everything through the UCWeb homepage. It’s a portal for everything. Users in China don’t even care whether you’re coming from a browser or not. And that’s what we’re striving to become more so. We should be the center-place where you launch most of your content.
To become a portal for more than just websites, however, requires a lot of technical work to make the user experience on the mobile Web equivalent to that on native apps.
Changyou is a NASDAQ-listed company that boasts a portfolio of popular web and mobile games in China. Yeung said that this is why she thinks there will be “really good synergy” between Dolphin and Changyou, given its expertise in designing for both web and mobile.
Other than that, gaming is something that Dolphin has been looking into — in fact, the company was testing an HTML5 game even before Changyou came into the picture, as they strove to create an experience on the Dolphin browser that was the same in terms of gameplay on an app.
“You can still install your games on your desktop, or still install any app, but at the same time a browser is a platform to access many, many things,” she said, once again reiterating the idea of Dolphin as a central launchpad for content.
Yeung noted that there are certain difficulties involved in creating a great gaming experience in a mobile browser — primarily to get the sound of the game running smoothly, offline caching that allows a user to continue playing without being connected, and the billing process for in-app purchases. This is where Changyou is starting to play a role.
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We chose Changyou because they share our vision for the world. They have an amazing team who concentrate on user acquisition and monetization in China, India, Brazil and Southeast Asia. We want to learn from them and grow even more in these emerging countries.
We will also work closely to integrate some of their games into Dolphin. The ultimate HTML5 games experience will be coming soon.
Native apps versus the mobile web
As apps become commonplace in the mobile world, along with that comes the problem of having too many apps on your device. In emerging markets, this problem may be even more frustrating, given that lower-end mobile devices may not have that much internal memory, while apps running in the background can mean sapping data.
To this extent, the idea of mobile browsers as a portal would likely appeal to users in emerging markets. Yeung revealed that the $30 million investment from Changyou will primarily be used to focus on growth in emerging markets.
“There are 7.1 billion people in the world and over 60 percent of them still have no internet access. They are in countries like China, India, Indonesia and many other countries across Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America. The population in these countries will eventually have access to the internet via their Android phone and I hope to see Dolphin becoming the centerpiece and gateway for their internet use,” she said.
So far in 2014, Yeung said that Dolphin’s daily new installs in countries like Russia, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil have increased almost 300 percent.
However, Yeung observed that it is going to be a “long, long war” between the argument of native apps versus the mobile web — and instead of jumping into the war by trying to convert app developers into building for the mobile web, what the company will focus on is convincing web developers to develop for HTML5 instead.
We had very interesting conversations with lots of potential investors, but I think going with Changyou had a lot to do with synergy. This is going to be a long-term play…
I think the role that we want to play is: how do we encourage as many developers and in fact, HTML developers — millions of them — to be excited about mobile and want to create more apps on HTML5. That’s actually a bigger ecosystem thing that takes a lot of energy. It’s not what one round of funding can solve. How do we encourage the normal web people (developers), to get them education and make things easy for them to get excited about mobile? I’m not going to try to preach to people who are already doing amazing on native apps.
Dolphin’s journey to become a window not only into the Web, but to a variety of content, is reminiscent of an appstore — without the apps, but with links to games and entertainment among other offerings.
If Dolphin can recreate a native app experience in the browser, it could very well attract even more users in emerging markets who don’t want to have too many apps on their mobile device. At least with the Changyou partnership, it looks like it’s going on the right track, particularly in games.