Yandex.Disk Wants To Give iCloud, Skydrive and Dropbox A Run For Their Money In Russia

Yandex, according to some speculation, may be in line to become the default search engine on devices that Apple sells in Russia. But for now it’s engaging in a little competition with Cupertino, and others. Today the Russian search giant is launching its own answer to iCloud: a free, web-based storage product it’s calling Yandex.Disk.

Users of Yandex.Disk get up to 10 gigabytes of space that they can use for personal documents, photos, music and videos. Like iCloud and Microsoft’s Skydrive, the service is aimed specifically at offering storage services that help keep users tied in to the rest of Yandex’s portfolio of products. Once uploaded to Disk, the files can subsequently be accessed from any internet-enabled device.

Like the integration that we’ve seen from to automatically save email attachments to services like Dropbox and Box, Yandex.Disk also automatically saves email attachments from users’ Yandex.Mail accounts — a service that is on top of that 10GB allowance. Yandex says it will be adding more of its own services to that list in future.

Disk is currently invitation-only for those who are registered with Yandex. And it could be that Yandex is using the new service to grow those ranks.

Yandex controls more than 60 percent of the search market, as of February 2012, and had 45 million unique visitors to its sites in December 2011. But when it comes to registered users it looks like the numbers are significantly lower. Yandex says that Mail is the second-most-popular service after search. But as of February 2012, that translated to only 11.6 million weekly users of its Mail service (so under a third of the number using its search product). That doesn’t reflect a potential Disk audience 100 percent, since some people do not login when they use Yandex, the spokesperson said. “But I suppose they probably will when they know about Disk…as Disk is closely integrated with Mail,” he added.

Having registered users that you can cross sell services like Mail, Maps and other products, of course, makes that person much more valuable for Yandex and potential advertisers, the basis of Yandex’s business model.

There is another reason it is important for Yandex to have launched this service: offering digital lockers and cloud storage services have also become almost like table stakes for big companies that want to build businesses out of distributing other kinds of cloud-based content (see HTC’s own Dropbox deal), and the same goes here for Yandex.

In the Russian’s case, in addition to products like its email service, it also has Yandex.Music. This is a free streaming service that Yandex offers in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan that covers some three million tracks and has 2.8 million monthly unique users.

Yandex tells me that for now, Disk, designed with a Russian interface, is being marketed specifically in Russia and other Russian-speaking markets; there are no stated plans at the moment to extend that, although Yandex has done that with other products in its portfolio (such as search), so you never know.

In addition to being accessible via a web interface across different platforms, Yandex.Disk will also work via a Windows or MacOS GUI client, as well as via the Yandex.Mail app available for iPhone and Android devices.

There has been some speculation that Yandex and Apple might link up, as part of a larger strategy from Apple to offer integration with local leaders in certain big markets outside the U.S. So far, Apple has integrated a lot of Chinese services, for example, into its latest Mac OS, Mountain Lion. And Yandex has inked similar deals to be the default search client on Samsung’s bada devices in the CIS region as well as Windows Phone 7 devices in Russia.

Some believe that this will extend to China’s search leader Baidu becoming the default search engine on iOS devices as well, something that has yet to be confirmed. Yandex also would not comment on the question of whether it would do the same for iOS in Russia.