How latest Facebook acquisition will impact Asia growth

Facebook’s latest acquisition, mobile web application developer Snaptu, is likely to have a big impact in Asia, forming a critical piece of the push towards reaching the landmark of 1 billion users worldwide.

Snaptu, whose acquisition is estimated by TechCrunch at $60 – $70 million, is notable for recently agreeing a deal with Facebook to provide a mobile ‘app’ to feature phones such as devices from Nokia, LG, Sony Ericsson and others.

The acquisition has greater significance for developing regions like Asia, South America and Africa than its saturated Western markets for a number of reasons.

Smartphone devices – with dedicated Facebook apps – are growing in popularity in Western markets where most Facebook users have high levels of access to PCs, laptops and tablets on which they browse the social network.

Developing areas, however, enjoy less access to technology – thanks to poor infrastructure which restricts internet access points in many markets – while basic hardware such as PCs is often outside of the financial reach of many, leaving them unable to gain web access through regular methods.

For these people, mobile is showing it can step in and make a difference.

However, though mobile ownership and usage is growing rapidly, particularly in Asia where the ratio of mobile internet versus fixed internet is highest, the smartphone revolution is yet to fully trickle down and become affordable to those with limited access to the internet.

Though those with limited access typically own phones, they are often too old or basic to run mobile internet while many remain unaware of the possibility, sticking to ‘dumb’ (non-feature) phones.

These people’s devicse are not able to take advantage of Snaptu but,¬†with Facebook going the whole hog and acquiring the company, it seems likely that the technology which enables greater internet access may be adapted or used to improve the user experience on the most basic handsets.

Either way, in the immediate future, with the service now owned by Facebook some of the conditions for Snaptu users may be removed – such as an end to the 90 day free trial in favour of total free usage and the addition of more carriers supporting the service. Facebook has the Facebook Zero service it launched last year and it makes sense that Snaptu will be used to enhance or compliment this existing service.

The acquisition clearly shows a focus on mobile and on ‘opening’ Facebook up to new users in developing areas – which fits with the social network’s objective of growing into new markets and finding new users.