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Alternative browser maker Maxthon cuts a deal to break into smartphones

By Dean Takahashi

Watch out browser makers. Maxton is coming to smartphones and tablets through an alliance with Taiwan’s MediaTek.

Jeff Chen, the founder and chief executive of alternative browser maker Maxthon, was tired of slow and crash-prone browsers. So he built a fast and reliable one called Maxthon. Now his company has more than 100 million monthly users for its browser. And today, the company is announcing it has figured out a way to reach as many as 100 million more users on smartphones and tablets in 2014. It will do so through an alliance with mobile chip maker MediaTek, which will design the Maxthon browser into its products.

That could help turn Maxthon into a more credible competitor to the big browsers: Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Google’s Chrome, Apple’s Safari, and Mozilla’s Firefox. Maxthon, which is based in San Francisco and Hong Kong, has partnered with MediaTek’s value-added services arm, RollTech. MediaTek, based in Taiwan, is the third-largest supplier of chips for Android smartphones and tablets. The companies say that the alliance means that Maxthon’s web browsers will be preloaded into 100 million smartphones in 2014. Of course, Maxthon will have its work cut out getting users to use its browser instead of others.

I recently sat down with Chen and Karl Mattson, general manager of Maxthon International, for an interview.

“Our chunk of the browser market is both large and small,” said Mattson. “We are in the top five. It’s a big business. But we are smaller than IE or Chrome. Still, for us that means we have a big opportunity. We can be a lot more nimble. We can pursue things faster. And fix things faster.”

Maxthon hopes to distinguish itself from other through better performance. That’s where its roots were.
“We got a lot of inspiration from gamers, and I played a lot of games myself,” said Chen, a big fan of the Galaga arcade game when he was a kid. As a college student in Singapore, he turned that interest in games into a career in programming.

“I started using the internet a lot in 2003. Internet Explorer was so horrible to use,” he said. He created a community around his browser, which he first called MyIE. It was sort of like open source, as community members contributed to the effort. But Chen himself wrote all the final code. In 2004, he got more than 3 million users. He founded the company, Maxthon, got some funding, and continued to expand it worldwide. It innovated with new features such as tabs, sandboxed tabs for added security, and cloud-based services for syncing bookmarks and history. With memory management, Maxthon allows you to pick up where you left off, no matter what you were working on, with any of your Internet-enabled devices.

Because of its focus on speed, Maxthon switched from the Trident browser engine in 2008 because Microsoft was slow to fix it. Chen adopted the Webkit engine that Apple used to create Safari. The company also focused on making Maxthon ideal for gamers by allowing them to sign into five accounts at the same time. Chen also focused on reliable memory management so that the browser would be less prone to crash.

“RollTech’s mission is to work with OEMs and device manufacturers to help deliver the best possible combination of smart devices and services to the markets they serve,” says Huiling Liu, CEO and founder of RollTech. “We’re pleased to add Maxthon’s high performance web browsers to our efforts. “ Maxthon will be pre-loaded in a number of smart phones and tablets sold through original device manufacturers. A partial list includes LGE, ZTE,TCL/Alcatel, Gionee, Phillips, Techain, Konka, LenovoMobile, CKT, and LavaMobile.