UC Browser is the third most used mobile browser in the world and the most used in India according to StatCounter, forming just under half the market share in the country. But its developer - Guangzhou, China-based UCWeb owned by giant Alibaba - wants it to be more than that. That's why, at an event in Mumbai on Tuesday, it announced its intention to shift the app from being just a tool to a content provider and aggregator.
To aid in its mission, the company has partnered with Viacom 18-owned Colors TV to bring four of its biggest shows: the Indian version of Strictly Come Dancing Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa, the Indian eponymous remake of international hit 24, Indian 'Big Brother' - Bigg Boss, and Comedy Nights Live across its portfolio of apps.
Fans of Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa and Bigg Boss will get access to a fan zone containing behind the scenes footage directly from the UC Browser app, along with a blog written by the show's 35-year-old anchor Manish Paul. His blog is part of a larger content strategy, the company said, and it will also involve author Chetan Bhagat and dancer turned actress Lauren Gottlieb. UCWeb will also be creating a game based on 24 that will first launch on its sister platform 9Apps.
The company is also putting its India-exclusive news app - UC News - front and centre in UC Browser. This change signals that UCWeb sees UC Browser as a central home for everything it creates, as was evident from its statement: "making [UC News] an integral part of UC Browser now, with more customisation options for the users". This might benefit those who use multiple apps by the developer, while pushing away people interested in a simpler browser-only solution.
And the latter audience has already started to pushback. Since the Tuesday update, users have taken to Google Play to complain about the new integrations, pointing out that tacking on more features is ruining the simplicity of being a Web browser. People are also unhappy with the fact that there is no opt-out option for UC News unlike in previous versions, which leads to needless consumption of mobile data, a problem for most users in India.
In defence of its move, the company stated that "[while] the old browser just brought people on the internet, the new UC Browser recognises that now is the right time to offer the right content to the right user". To provide relevant content, UCWeb analysed what people search for and found that a large portion of it is centred on entertainment with over 40 percent of the content consumption coming from Maharashtra, the state with Mumbai in it.
For now, the new browser integration offers English and Hindi with regional languages in the pipeline. The company said in its announcement that its apps are used by more than 420 million monthly active users worldwide, with 80 million of those coming from India.