Yandex, referred to as the “Google of Russia” for its dominance in search and subsequent extension into cloud-based services like maps, online storage and apps, today is unveiling another service that will give it a stronger foothold in the fast-growing mobile market: it is debuting a dedicated mobile browser, which will feature a single box for URLs and searches, voice recognition features and more. But Yandex is still stopping short of launching a full-blown, Android-style mobile platform to complete the picture.
There are “no plans” to develop a mobile operating system, a spokesperson tells me. “It doesn’t make sense for us. It is a totally different business. Anyway, we [now] have everything for our own mobile ecosystem on Android: search, apps like Mail and Maps, 3D UI (Yandex.Shell), app store and now the browser.”
Yandex.Browser for mobile comes on the back of Yandex last year launching a dedicated desktop browser of the same name in October 2012. That browser now has around 8 million users in Russia, or a 5%-6% market share.
The mobile version will launch, the company says, “later this year.”
The move comes at a time when Yandex is already a strong player in mobile. Not only are its maps and other apps already popular among iOS and Android users (and it has a deal with Apple to help power its native mapping product on iOS devices in Russian-speaking countries, as part of the latter company’s gradual distancing from Google), but Yandex already holds about half of all searches on Android devices. This is a significant metric and perhaps more significant than where Yandex is positioned right now on iOS: Android is the platform where it concentrates a lot of its energy because it is the fastest-growing in Russia, across a range of low-cost and high-end handsets.
“According to our stats Yandex have about 49% of searches on Android, but for sure we want more,” the spokesperson notes. It has around a 60% stake in online search in Russia, with other big players including Google.
While Yandex has focused, and continues to focus, a lot of its efforts to date on Russian-language markets and to a lesser extent Turkey, new mobile services, where the playing field remains open has been an opportunity for Yandex to test out and export more services in English. In that vein, it’s launching Yandex.Browser for mobile in both Russian and English-language users.
(The ill-fated, but full-of-potential Wonder app in the U.S. is one example of how that hasn’t always worked, though.)
Like the online browser, the mobile browser is built WebKit (Blink on Android). And like Chrome, it lets users incorporate both URLs and searches into a single box that Yandex calls “Smartbox.” This will tie a user into using Yandex search first on the browser.
Interestingly, although Yandex competes fairly fiercely with Google in Russia and other markets where Yandex is established, outside of it the search giant becomes a major partner. The English version of the mobile browser, Yandex notes, will have Google as its default search (except in China, where Baidu is the default. “This is because we want to make the browser really convinient for people outside of Russia, CIS and Turkey,” the spokesperson says. Users can also set the default search to either Bing or Yahoo in the English version.
These are not commercial deals, but if and when Yandex gets more users on the browser, “we will think about some alternative ways to monetize it, like revenue-sharing models for search engines and websites preset on browser’s launch page.” In home markets, the browser’s main revenue stream will come from search ads.
Other features to come will also include “integration with social networks, synchronization between mobile and desktop versions of the browser and improved user experience,” the company says. And as you can see in some of the screenshots in this post, it looks like there will also be some integration of voice-based search and potentially other features, too.