Long-time Android fans (fandroids?) will probably be familiar with Dolphin, the third-party browser that first made a name for itself during the ways when the stock Android browser left much to be desired. It’s been making some considerable strides over the past year whether you noticed or not, and today the team at MoboTap have pushed out yet another substantial update into the Google Play store.
The new build plays home to a handful of significant UI tweaks — users now have one swipe access to gesture and voice commands, and can drill down their search results to focus solely on results from sites like Amazon, eBay, and YouTube. The biggest addition to the mix though? A HTML5 web app repository that gets featured prominently when you first fire up the browser. It may not seem like a huge leap for the company considering just how strongly it’s tried to play up its speedy HTML5 rendering over the past year, but Mobotap hopes that providing quick access to rich web apps will change how people interact with their phone’s browser.
“We want Dolphin to be people’s second homescreen,” MoboTap corporate strategy head Edith Yeung told me. “You don’t actually need to run all these native apps, you just run things in the browser.”
MoboTap says they’ve got “over 200” web apps indexed in their storefront, all of which can be added to the browser’s speed dial screen and slotted into different folders for quick access. Once you’ve got the speed dial loaded up with links it bears a passing resemblance to your typical Android homescreen, but their vision of a rich smartphone experience being contained within a browser hasn’t been achieved just yet. Yeung concedes that it’s very much a work in progress though, and that the company is working to make this particular sea change as smooth as possible — they’ve made their share of drastic changes in the past, much to the chagrin of unsuspecting users.
So what’s next in MoboTap’s push to proliferate HTML5? So far we’ve seen a handful of gutsy companies make a case for the web as a platform — Google is still doggedly pushing the concept with ChromeOS and some frankly impressive hardware, while Mozilla’s Firefox OS is being loaded onto entry-level smartphones in anticipation of an impending launch this summer. That sort of hardware-inclusive approach is one hasn’t been on the table thanks to MoboTap’s size, but as far as they’re concerned branching into hardware is problematic unless you’re tremendously well-connected.
“We have a very good relationship with the people at Firefox, but we have a very different theory,” Yeung added. “Firefox likes to have complete control, which is great, but from our experience working with the OEM, it’ll be different for any OEM to commit to any significant volume of phones.” Instead, the company has been spending its time and resources trying to ink potentially fruitful pre-install deals with carriers (and especially big players in southeast Asia) — MoboTap linked up with KDDI to pre-load the browser on a slew of Japanese Android phones, and it quietly locked up a similar deal with China Telecom back in January. So far, the strategy seems to be working — MoboTap confirmed that Dolphin has already been installed on over 80 million devices across the globe, though the company wouldn’t break down how many downloads came from users who found the app on their own and installs stemming from pre-install partnerships.