Mail.ru — the Russian internet giant with 100 million users of its mail, social networking (it now owns VK.com) and other web-based services — has made an acquisition that will start to bring navigation and location-based services into the mix. It has acquired Maps.Me, a maker of map apps and other navigation services based on OpenStreetMap data and with the ability to work offline.
The company will be integrating Maps.Me into its my.com platform — which Mail.ru launched last year to build and market mobile and web apps to an audience outside of Russia. My.com has to date already launched mail, chat and gaming apps.
The terms of the deal were not disclosed. Maps.me had 1.8 million active users, with many of them contributing to the maps database. Overall more than 7 million users have downloaded Maps.Me since its release in 2011.
The startup itself was bootstrapped and headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland and Minsk, Belarus. Its team is moving over to Moscow to work out of Mail.ru’s new HQ.
Dmitry Grishin, CEO of Mail.ru, tells me that its acquisition of Maps.Me came after a period of doing due diligence on a number of other mapping startups. “We looked at many companies but they were one of the best based on OpenStreetMap,” he says. “One particular feature we liked is how they have created very smart algorithms to download maps and then use them offline with no 3G or other data connection.”
This is smart on two counts: getting a product based on OpenStreetMap is a logical step for a company that is effectively a late mover into the world of maps and wants to be independent of proprietary platforms like Google’s, Nokia’s or Yandex’s. “This is not in competition with any of the map companies,” Grishin notes.
Yandex, of course, is a home rival that has made a lot of headway in building up a maps database and services around it — so much so that it has deals in place with the likes of Apple to power mapping services in Russia.
Plus, having a service that works offline means is also smart for Mail.ru in its push not only in Russia but other markets where mobile data may not be ubiquitous, or users may be more cost-sensitive and not pay for unlimited data plans. “The growth of GPS in phones, though, means we can now build in a lot of powerful features,” he says.
Mail.ru zeroed in on maps specifically because it is one of the few categories that is popular on mobile everywhere that are not already in the my.com portfolio of services. “Our idea is to use my.com for global expansion,” he says. It’s telling that Maps.Me had a decent geographic spread: Russia (18% of users), the USA (13%), Germany (7%), Italy (4%) and China (4%).
To date, Maps.Me has focused only on direct-to-consumer apps but Grishin says that going forward the team will be “thinking about ideas like an API” as well as how to incorporate the data from Maps.me across the other apps in the my.com portfolio. “We can bring this product to the next level now,” he says. As for what services, or acquisitions, may come next for my.com and Mail.ru, no comment except: “What you can expect from us is that we are trying to rethink what the mobile phone can bring and what advantage we have, being fully focused on mobile.”