UC Browser, a mobile browser owned by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba that’s rarely used in Western countries, is more popular than Google’s Chrome in some of Asia’s fastest-growing markets, The Wall Street Journal reported. Hundreds of millions of mobile users in developing countries like India and Indonesia, where low-end smartphones with less memory are more common, have downloaded UC Browser.
UC Browser has more than 430 million users worldwide, with a 44% market share in India, according to analytics firm StatCounter said. But Chrome’s share grew to 35% in November from 21% a year earlier. UC Browser and Chrome are neck-and-neck in Indonesia with about 40% market share each.
Chrome has more than a billion users globally, with 47% market share compared with UC Browser’s 16%. In the U.S., Apple’s Safari browser has a 52% share, compared with Chrome’s 39% and UC Browser’s less than 1%.
India and Indonesia have enormous growth potential for internet and mobile usage, making the countries a key battleground for U.S. and Chinese tech firms that dominate their home markets. Since the Chrome browser is one of Google’s key gateways to its search engine and advertisements, a weak position for Chrome in these markets could have wide implications for Google. UC Browser also sells ad insertions, giving it a strong foothold in Southeast Asia. Mobile ad spending in the region is set to more than double from about $860 million this year to $2.2 billion in 2021, researcher eMarketer said. Chrome users also are more likely to use other services like Gmail, Google Calendar and cloud storage platform Google Drive, researcher Ovum said.
UC Browser has several advantages in developing markets, including less memory usage, a portal-like home page that shows top news and content without the need for a specialized app and an eight-year head start before Google released Chrome for Android devices in 2008. Smartphones in Asia’s developing markets are more likely to have 12 gigabytes of storage, compared with the U.S. standard of 32 gigabytes, researcher Counterpoint told the Journal. The UC Browser app takes up 31 megabytes of space, compared with Chrome’s 125 megabytes, independent Android app store Aptoide said.
Google appears to be responding with updates to Chrome that emulate UC Browser’s features, including the addition of icons on the home screen that link to popular websites and cutting its data and memory usage.
For most Indian and Indonesian consumers, the key method of reaching the internet is through a mobile device. In India, 79% of internet usage was made through a mobile device compared with a global average of 49.7%, StatCounter said in March. In Indonesia, the percentage was 72%. Less than a third (30%) of India’s 1.3 billion people uses the internet, while 25% of Indonesia’s population of 260 million is online, according to the UN’s International Telecommunication Union. Because consumers in these emerging markets have less spending power, they are unlikely to buy high-end phones from brands like Apple and Samsung that have more memory to store mobile apps.