China's largest mobile browser provider, UCWeb, is preparing to enter the U.S. market, as the company shifts from doing business on its home turf to becoming a global Internet firm.
Although not as well-known abroad, UCWeb now has more than 300 million users of its UC Browser software, which is built for mobile operating systems including Android, iOS, and Symbian.
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While most of the company's users come from its home country, UCWeb has aspirations to become one of the first Chinese Internet firms to succeed abroad, according to its CEO Yu Yongfu.
"Although UCWeb is a company that was established in China, our business should be like a U.S. company, in that all our products and business should be offered globally," he said in an interview. "In order for UCWeb to become international, the U.S. has become an important target for us."
The company already has an English version available for download. But by June or July, UCWeb plans to release a mobile browser specifically meant for U.S. users, Yu said. Later this year, the company also plans to establish an office in the U.S.
Yu declined to reveal details of the product targeted at the U.S. market, but he said users will want to download the company's browser because it will offer faster Web page download times, better viewing of text and images, and features such as voice search.
To expand into the U.S., UCWeb will have to compete with mobile browsers from Google and Apple, which currently dominate the country's market, according StatCounter Global Stats. UC Browser on the other hand has less than a 1 percent share of the market.
The Chinese company, however, expects to have an edge over its competitors because the firm is focused on developing mobile browser products, Yu said. The company has to its credit its success in China, one of the most challenging Internet markets, which has close to a billion mobile phone users, he added.
Founded in 2004, UCWeb first rose to prominence after developing a mobile browser designed to visit web pages over China's slower 2G networks. Since then, the company has built up a staff of more 1,000 employees and has partnered with mobile operators and handset vendors including Nokia to pre-install the company's UC Browser on handsets.
In China, UCWeb has built brand loyalty among users, said Yan Xiaojia, an analyst with Beijing-based research firm Analysys International. But there are very few success stories of Chinese Internet firms doing well overseas, he added. Local Internet giants such as Baidu and Tencent have expanded to countries such as Japan and India, but have yet to establish themselves as global brands.
"Overseas, there are many new technologies, such as 4G and location-based services, that UCWeb may not have had as much experience with," Yan said. "UCWeb will need to build up their brand, and spend heavily on research and development to localize their products."
Yu, however, said he is confident the company can become international by bringing a superior mobile browsing experience to users across the world. UCWeb is also expanding in other countries including Indonesia, Russia, and India.
"We have the most features, since we specialize in mobile browsers," he said. "Our features will offer a huge improvement in convenience."