Skype, in the midst of being acquired by Microsoft, has announced plans to purchase mobile messaging service GroupMe-but to what end?
Skype has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire
GroupMe, which offers mobile group messaging service. Per standard
for acquisitions like this, the financial terms weren't disclosed. But
considering how Skype's own acquisition by Microsoft is already well
underway, any purchase by the former is likely to become a factor in
the latter's operations.
For the moment, though, it's unclear how Skype/Microsoft intends to
deploy GroupMe's assets. "We think the mobile group messaging space is
important," Skype CEO Tony Bates told The
Wall Street Journal. "It means furthering the breaking down of barriers to
Under the terms of an $8.5 billion agreement announced earlier this year, Skype will become a
business division within Microsoft, headed by Bates, and its assets baked into
products such as Windows Phone and Xbox. Skype's considerable user base and
products could allow Microsoft to compete more heartily in the communications
realm against the likes of Google Android and Apple's iPhone, which have carved
away huge chunks of the business and consumer market.
The U.S. Department of Justice approved the acquisition in
June. Microsoft now faces the singular challenge of digesting Skype's assets
and incorporating them into products that span the breadth of a massive
company-not to mention monetize them in ways that don't repel Skype's built-in
audience, so used to paying little-or-nothing for Voice over IP (VOIP) and video calling.
GroupMe's offerings include the ability to set up instant
conference calls, group messaging, the ability to see your friends and contacts
on a map and photo-sharing. Especially in the context of mobile devices, all
those features could come in extra-handy for Microsoft at a time when its
rivals also have their eye on robust messaging as a competitive differentiator.
Research In Motion's BlackBerry Messenger 6, for example,
offers users the ability to chat within an application or game, as well as view
lists of applications posted on BBM friends' profiles. It's available for
download via BlackBerry App World. Sometime this fall, Apple will also release
the next version of its mobile operating system, iOS 5, with a robust
"iMessenger" conversation platform designed to take BBM head-on.
"Anyone with an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch can send
unlimited free text messages to anyone else using an iOS device," Peter Misek,
an analyst with research firm Jefferies & Co., wrote in a note soon after
Apple announced the feature. "The two mainstays of RIM's sales have been
corporate email users and consumer BBM users. While Apple lacks RIM's NOC/node
infrastructure that allows for BBMing without a data plan with some carriers,
[iMessenger] is otherwise a direct competitor."
It stands to reason that both Skype and Microsoft would be
interested in offering something for mobile devices capable of competing with
iMessenger and BBM 6. At this relatively early stage, though, it remains to be
seen exactly how GroupMe's assets could end up incorporated into
Skype/Microsoft's product array (in particular, Windows Phone). There's also
the possibility that Skype made the acquisition in order to prevent GroupMe
from falling into competing hands.
Nicholas Kolakowski on Twitter
Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.