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Sequoia Leads $10 Million Investment In Dolphin, The Customizable Android Browser

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The desktop browser wars are fiercer than ever, with Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera, and *cough* Internet Explorer all in a heated race for users (and new features). But there’s a relatively new market that’s still ripe for a surge in browser innovation: mobile.

All of the aforementioned browsers already have mobile incarnations, but there are some new mobile-only browsers popping up as well. And today MoboTap, the company behind the Dolphin Browser, is getting a big boost: it’s announcing that it’s closed a $10 million Series A funding round let by Sequoia Capital, with participation from Matrix Partners. Sequoia partner Kui Zhou will be joining MoboTap’s board.

The company first launched the Dolphin browser 15 months ago — it’s since been downloaded 8 million times, and has 4 million monthly active users (1 million of whom are using the app daily). And it’s growing quickly, with 30,000 new downloads every day, which works out to around a million per month. Usage is concentrated in the US, which has 80% of the total downloads, and the remaining user base is mostly in Asia.

The biggest selling point for Dolphin is that it lets you customize your mobile browser, in much the same way you would customize the desktop version of Firefox or Chrome using extensions. At this point there are over 50 Dolphin add-ons available, including Last.fm and LastPass. Dolphin also supports gestures — you could set it up to take you to TechCrunch every time you drew a big ‘T’ on your screen, for example. And there’s a nifty ‘Webzine’ format that cleans up the pages you’re viewing. Dolphin uses the ‘Chrome Lite’ browser that’s baked into Android as its rendering engine — it focuses exclusively on the UI and user experience.
Update: We should note that the Android version of Firefox also lets users customize their browsing experience with extensions (and has since early 2010).

The new 6.0 edition of the browser, which launches today, also brings with it an important new feature: it’s free. Up until now Dolphin has been available as a freemium product, with an ad-supported free version and a premium version available for $4.99 that removed the ads. Now the company is focusing on getting as much distribution as it can, so it’s getting rid of the ads entirely and making the premium version free.

The company says that it will be using the new funding for three things: it’ll be growing the team, which already numbers nearly 100 between offices in San Francisco and Beijing. It’s going to focus on building out new partnerships, which means we can probably expect it to come pre-installed on some handsets in the future (at this point all of its growth as been through downloads on Android Market). And, finally, it’s going to launch on other platforms — an iPhone app is in the works.

Dolphin will obviously see competition, both from other startups and from the big browser vendors themselves (I’ll be surprised if the mobile browser that ships with Android doesn’t support extensions in the next year). But competition is only a good thing here, and there will be hundreds of millions (billions, even) of users to go around.