“This is the first smartphone messenger with a built-in browser.” Clear, succinct and confident, Kik CEO Ted Livingston told me over the phone that his company’s popular instant messaging app is set to further set itself apart from the competition.
After expanding to 100 million users and sharing 150 million of its HTML5-powered Cards, small apps and games that run in a webview within Kik, the company is going that one crucial step further by adding an actual browser within the app.
“We believe in HTML5, but HTML5 on its own doesn’t work,” said Livingston. “HTML5 + Kik — its APIs and distribution channels — works.” The company seems to be doing away with its Cards platform, which itself was just a bunch of disparate HTML5 “apps” optimized for the mobile web, and instead will encourage all mobile content creators to optimize their features for Kik Browser, the feature launching today.
“We’re repositioning our platform to make it easier to understand,” he continues. The technology is the same, but instead of asking developers to create unique content specifically for Kik, which was taking too long and involved too many steps, Livingston wants companies with excellent HTML5-enabled mobile sites, from Soundcloud to Forecast.io, to make only a few minor tweaks.
Any website, mobile-optimized or not, can be shared between Kik users: the left-side menu, typically used to open and switch between Cards, now has a search bar aimed at easily finding Kik-optimized mobile content. Kik is also offering developers and brands tools and libraries meant to optimize web content for mobile devices.
In a release, Livingston said, “The launch of the Kik Browser marks a huge milestone for Kik, and really proves our commitment to developers and the mobile Web. This is why we’ve built our device, social and distribution APIs and are making them available to any developer, to make it as easy as possible for them to optimize their web pages for mobile.”
As for Windows Phone, while Livingston would like to revisit the platform his team abandoned nearly two years ago, he says there are technical limitations at work. “Windows Phone has a different rendering engine than Android and iOS,” and doesn’t support the same number of HTML5 tags as its WebKit counterpart in iOS and Android. Perhaps with Windows Phone 8.1 and an improved Internet Explorer browser, Kik for Windows Phone — still an incredibly popular instant messenger — will live on.