App Annie Fills The Void Left By Facebook’s Onavo Acquisition With Its New Company Smart Sense

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When Facebook scooped up mobile data analytics powerhouse Onavo last year, it was only a matter of time before someone rebuilt its service. And that seems to be just what the now-leading mobile app analytics firm App Annie has done. The company, which used some portion of its $39 million in funding to snap up its competitor Distimo earlier this year, has quietly released a new app called VPN Defender from a company called “Smart Sense.”

The app, much like Onvao’s VPN product, allows for encrypted and secure access to a user’s favorite sites and apps even when they’re blocked in your part of the world. But more importantly, it serves as a window into app usage and trends.

The app is published by a company called Smart Sense, which the VPN Defender website explains (in small print, at the bottom of the homepage) is “an App Annie company.” That’s the only clue that Smart Sense comes from App Annie, as the apparently Hong Kong-based company otherwise quietly launched its app into the Apple App Store this month, with no formal announcement from its corporate parent.

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When reached for comment about Smart Sense, App Annie CEO Bertrand Schmitt replied that it is a sub-brand for App Annie’s consumer apps. “We have been working on this project for a long time,” he says. “We know there’s a strong unmet demand for high quality usage insights and we think we’re in a great position to meet that demand in a safe, privacy-protective way. Specifics will be announced at a later date.”

Though App Annie had been keeping Smart Sense under wraps, it’s poised to open up a very big business for the app analytics company. With the data VPN Defender, and soon, other apps, collect, App Annie could become the go-to resource for mobile app data that has been otherwise impossible to collect via a third party following Onavo’s exit, which left a gaping hole in the market.

If you recall, when Onavo first got started, it offered consumers mobile data tracking apps that helped lower your bills by utilizing data compression techniques. It later launched a VPN app for safe browsing. And on the backs of these consumer-facing applications, Onavo was able to establish a footprint on smartphones around the world, allowing it to create a mobile data and ad analytics business that could see the traffic taking place across hundreds of thousands of app on millions of devices.

For anyone looking into mobile startups from the outside, Onavo was useful as it served as one of the few sources that offered visibility into an app’s true performance. It provided details as to which mobile apps actually have active users and whether those users were gained through organic means – insights that were hard to access otherwise, as the app stores’ top charts today are focused on downloads and velocity, not retention.

Facebook was a customer of Onavo’s before they found it valuable enough to scoop up for themselves. And now Facebook seems fairly obsessed with cloning what it sees as the next up-and-coming social experiences on mobile – but perhaps Facebook is obsessed because it has the actual data.

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Smart Sense appears to be following down the same path Onavo laid out in front of them, except that its VPN app is offering access to blocked sites and apps, while Onavo’s is more focused on secure browsing. Schmitt says that the app’s bigger differentiation is that it will offer a high-quality VPN experience with no bandwidth limitation for free to end users.

That’s another clear sign that App Annie isn’t interested in making money from the VPN app itself, but rather the data it ingests. Schmitt declined to go into detail as to how this data compares with Onavo’s but noted that it has yet to be incorporated into App Annie’s publicly available services, free or paid.

VPN Defender will be the first of several free consumer apps from the company, it appears. The website says that Smart Sense is “working on next generation intelligent apps for your mobile device,” and the CEO adds that Smart Sense will be “evaluating the consumer app market for other opportunities to improve consumers’ lives.”