Dolphin browser maker goes mobile to create splash

Mobile developer MoboTap turns to gesture- and voice-enabled features to distinguish its Dolphin Browser from others in market, and breaking free from browsers limited by need to be desktop-compatible.

Mobile browser developer MoboTap has one aim in mind: to position mobile as its topmost focus and create a product that changes the way the Web is navigated through using mobile devices.

To that end, it created a mobile browser Dolphin Mobile that has attracted over 16 million downloads and established an agreement with Japanese mobile operator KDDI to preinstall the browser in selected Android handsets.

Edith Yeung, head of marketing for MoboTap, shared that the company, which was founded in San Francisco in March 2010, decided to create the Dolphin Browser in end-2009 because the default browsing experience on mobile devices was "really limited". Browsers then had no tabbed browsing and it was difficult to navigate, she noted.

"We realized most mobile browsers at the time were developed from a desktop browser perspective, meaning, developed by folks who were also developing for desktop browsers. That's why they lacked a fresh and unique perspective that is 100 percent mobile," Yeung said in an e-mail interview.

As such, the company developed its browser with mobile usage in mind and by developers with mobile backgrounds and who are "passionate about changing how the world should browse the mobile Web", the executive said.

MoboTap Founder and CEO Yang Yongzhi, for example, was a software architect at Microsoft, and led Redmond's mobile incubator effort.

Yeung said the design of the browser was centered around a human being's five senses of touch, sound, sight, smell and taste. In terms of touch, it is the world's first gesture-based browser, while users can navigate the Web using voice-control commands via the company's software, Sonar. Voice controls were offered so users could "forget about typing", she explained.

For sight, she suggested photo search could be a possible future feature, while there were no plans at the moment to address taste- and smell-based capabilities.

Asia-flavored expansion
Yeung also noted that uptake of the browser had been "tremendous". Across both Apple's iOS and Google's Android platforms, the company recorded over 16 million downloads for the Dolphin Browser app.

"We are the No. 1 third-party browser on Android, and since our launch last year on iOS, we have seen substantial downloads," she said. "We are doing particularly well in the U.S., Japan, Germany, South Korea and the U.K."

The executive, though, was unable to share usage rates of the app after download.

According to Yeung, Japan is a particularly key market for the 60-strong company, which has offices in San Francisco and Beijing, with plans to set up one in Tokyo. This is because MoboTap inked a partnership deal with KDDI earlier in May this year which will see the browser preinstalled on a number of new Android handsets offered by the Japanese carrier.

"The KDDI partnership was huge for us [as it is] one of the top mobile operators, and having our browser preloaded on millions of its Android devices shows just how big we've become," said Yeung.

"2012 is a big year as we push to more international markets and, with over 30 million subscribers, KDDI gives us access to a substantial number of additional users in the Japanese markets."

Asked how the company was planning to utilize the fresh funds from the KDDI deal, she declined to disclose more information. She did note that MoboTap was looking to sign similar partnerships with mobile carriers in Japan, South Korea and China.

It also has no plans to branch out into developing other mobile-based products, but will continue to innovate and improve Dolphin. One possible area of development could be on HTML 5, she added.

Funding is not a challenge for the company either, which raised US$10 million from top venture capitalist (VC) firm Sequoia Capital, and with participation from Matrix Partners.

Yeung said: "We had no issue with funding after our first funding round. We had really good traction, and a lot of VCs were interested in us."