Facebook tries to boost role as go-to mobile app with Onavo buy
By Chantal Tode
October 15, 2013
Onavo Extend helps users derive more value from their data plans
Already one of the most popular activities on mobile, Facebook is betting it can drive engagement levels even higher by helping users make better use of their monthly data allowances.
Facebook has acquired Onavo, which has an application that enables users to monitor their data usage and compress data so they do not reach their monthly cap as quickly. By giving users a way to spend even more time on Facebook, this is one way the social network is trying to attract advertisers.
“Facebook, given the wealth of subscribers it has, there is an opportunity to do more with the service in terms of what are the limiting factors that are keeping users from engaging more with Facebook,” said Jeff Orr, senior practice director for mobile devices at ABI Research, Oyster Bay, NY. “How does it become even more pervasive and used more frequently.
“We’re talking more about emotional qualities – how fast and responsive it appears, how quickly it provided the ability to view an image through Instagram, or to grab a video from a different site or to load an app within Facebook, such as a game,” he said. “All of those types of qualities are going to require using some amount of the data subscription.
“What it appears that Onavo has created is a way to be able to compress and optimize some of those data transactions so that the user is not reaching their data cap as quickly as they may have in the past. Ultimately that leads to Facebook being just that much more engaging for users on mobile devices.”
Stretching data plans
Optimizing data use is important as mobile users spend more time on their devices engaging in a variety of data-hogging activities, such as streaming video, playing games and engaging with apps.
While Facebook has a very strong mobile user base, the social network has struggled to monetize these users via advertising. Facebook has made significant gains in mobile advertising so far this year, but is still overshadowed by Google.
Additionally, while Twitter has a much smaller mobile user base, some consider it the stronger platform for mobile advertising because it originated on mobile and engagements typically happen in real-time.
Onavo, which is based in Tel Aviv, is behind the Onavo Extend mobile application that helps users extend the value of their existing data plan on AT&T or Verizon Wireless by compressing all downloaded data over 3G/EDGE/LTE, including images and texts.
Onavo Extend does not currently compress streaming media or VoIP apps such as YouTube or Skype. However, it is working on offering this service as well.
The app promises to stretch users’ existing data plan by up to five times. The app provides users with reports that break down their data usage by apps and mobile data activities so they can keep track of how they have been spending their monthly data allowance.
Users can also control the balance between image quality and savings.
“If Facebook is a large part of the data usage that a user has each month, by using data compression to send information with less data to the user that allows them to engage with Facebook that much more per month,” Mr. Orr said.
Onavo is not the only service available for compressing mobile data. Opera offers something similar on its mobile Web browser as does Amazon’s Silk browser for the Kindle Fire tablets.
The other part of Onavo’s business is mobile analytics, focused on helping software developers track installations, the amount of time users are spending in their apps and the frequency of engagement.
This will help marketers monitor and adjust their mobile ad spend.
The deal will also give Facebook a foothold in Israel, where there is a strong mobile app development community.
“Facebook’s motivation comes from how to bolster its mobile efforts and being able to increase the engagement with users on mobile devices and have them able to use the Facebook services more and more is the primary motivation,” Mr. Orr said.
“It shows that the company is continuing to try to figure out the mobile space and that perhaps this is one of the ways that chips away at trying to understand the mobile market,” he said.
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer
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