As an Internet company, Facebook has been criticized for not having a strong mobile presence, compared to its contemporaries like Twitter. With its recent acquisition of Onavo, the social networking company is beefing up its capability to better address the needs of an increasingly mobile user base, both in established and emerging markets.
Onavo is a startup based in Tel Aviv, Israel, that provides mobile optimization services for smartphone users, as well as analytics for mobile app developers. In terms of customer-facing apps, Onavo offers its “Count” app, an analytics software that determines mobile usage and trends. It also ofers “Extend”, which is a combination of local app and VPN service that compresses data usage to optimize the use of data plans.
With these services, Onavo has become increasingly popular among smartphone users — both on Android and iOS platforms — who wish to save money by using their mobile devices in a smarter manner.
On the business side, Facebook’s acquisition of Onavo will improve Facebook’s status as an advertising platform, as it can now mine data from mobile users more extensively. Onavo launched its “Insights” app in August this year, aimed at helping mobile app developers drive new app downloads, as well as determine the performance of their ad campaigns and monetization.
Onavo’s technology will help both advertisers and app developers in targeting their campaigns and apps. Plus, Facebook will get better insights into mobile usage, which can help it refine its own mobile application.
In Onavo’s announcement on the acquisition, company co-founders, CEO Guy Rosen and CTO Roi Tiger, said that Facebook’s own efforts in improving access to the Internet through Internet.org is also one of the key considerations that made the company agree to be acquired. The team intends “to play a critical role in reaching one of Internet.org’s most significant goals – using data more efficiently, so that more people around the world can connect and share,” they wrote.
In Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s first treatise in launching Internet.org (PDF download), he asked whether Internet connectivity is a human right, and identified mobile data efficiency as among the requirements in improving access. One of the important means by which improved access can be achieved is “[u]sing less data by improving the efficiency of the apps and experiences we use.”
“We expect Onavo’s data compression technology to play a central role in our mission to connect more people to the Internet, and their analytic tools will help us provide better, more efficient mobile products,” said a Facebook spokesperson to AllThingsD.
Telecommunications companies agree with the idea that Facebook’s acquisition will improve the social network’s capabilities in the mobile space. “Facebook is definitely doubling down on mobile, and in acquiring a mobile data analytics company, they could potentially create services that are optimized for networks and phones in lower bandwidth situations and a fixed amount of data,” Earl Martin Valencia, head for corporate development and innovation at Smart Communications and president at Ideaspace, told e27. “This is a statement that Facebook sees a huge potential in growing usage in the base of emerging markets where prepaid is prevalent and mobile data usage is still in its early stages of adoption.”
No terms of the acquisition were disclosed, although Israeli newspapers Calcali and The Marker estimate the deal to be within the US$100 to 200 million range. With the acquisition, Facebook also gets to establish its home base in Israel, which is considered to be among Asia’s fastest-growing tech startup hubs. Facebook had previously acquired Israel-based startups — including Face.com and Snaptu — although not at the same scale.
According to Rosen and Tiger, the team will still continue to operate Onavo apps under its own brand, and these will still be available both on Google Play and the iTunes App Store.
Featured image credit: The Onavo Team (L-R) Roi Tiger, Eran Friedman, Dvir Reznik, Nadav Wizman, Yuval Ariav and Guy Rosen