Facebook Buys Snaptu to Augment Feature Phone Access

Facebook said it acquired Snaptu to boost its mobile applications for feature phones, which 80 percent of phone users still use today.

Facebook March 20 confirmed it has agreed to purchase Israeli startup Snaptu, which optimizes applications for feature phones that lack the processing power and functionality of today's smartphones.

Israeli newspaper The Marker said the purchase price for Snaptu could be as high as $70 million. Facebook expects to close the acquisition in a few weeks, subject to customary closing conditions.

"As part of Facebook, Snaptu's team and technology will enable us to deliver an even better mobile experience on feature phones more quickly," a Facebook spokesman told eWEEK.

Facebook has history with Snaptu, working closely with the startup to offer its Facebook for Feature Phones app in January.

The app aims to approximate the user experience of smartphones on a feature phone by offering an easier-to-navigate home screen, contact synchronization, and speedy scrolling of photos and friend updates. The app works on more than 2,500 devices from Nokia, Sony Ericsson, LG and other handset manufacturers.

This is particularly useful in catering to developing nations, such as smaller Latin American and European nations. Most users in these regions use Internet-enabled mobile phones without the full HTML browsers that come on Apple's iPhone and Google Android smartphones.

Indeed, while smartphones are becoming increasingly popular, feature phones still dominate the mobile market. Gartner noted that while the global mobile phone market totaled 417.1 million units in the third quarter of 2010, only 80.5 million of those were smartphones. That's less than 20 percent.

Facebook caters to more than 200 million mobile users, but expects to expand that user base with Snaptu's help in reaching underserved countries.

"Working as part of the Facebook team offered the best opportunity to keep accelerating the pace of our product development," Snaptu said in a blog post. "And joining Facebook means we can make an even bigger impact on the world."

Snaptu said it will continue to operate as it does today as it transitions to Facebook, where it will work "to offer a richer and more advanced Facebook app on virtually every mobile phone."