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Updated: Facebook Buys Feature Phone Developer Snaptu For Up To $70 Million

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Facebook has made one of its biggest moves yet in its strategy to dominate mobile services: the social network has acquired Snaptu, a developer of apps for feature phones, for a sum believed to be up to $70 million. The acquisition is Facebook’s first outside of the U.S. and enhances the work Facebook has already done to make its services accessible to more than just smartphone users in developed markets.

The acquisition was first reported by two Israeli business papers, Calcalist and The Marker (Snaptu has offices in Tel Aviv, London and California).

Then Snaptu itself posted an announcement of the deal on its own blog.

Snaptu and Facebook have already been working together for a number of months as partners on a Facebook app for feature phones. That works across 2,500 devices and gives feature phone users access to services that had, up to then, only been available to smartphone users: synchronizing contacts, viewing photo and friend updates, and navigating everything through a Facebook home screen.

According to The Marker, Facebook and Snaptu had a revenue sharing agreement on any digital goods purchased through the app.

Snaptu has worked with a number of other huge online properties to extend their reach into Java-based feature phones, including Twitter and Picasa. Most recently, last week Snaptu created a LinkedIn client. In addition to creating feature phone apps, it also has its own app storefront, the “snappstore”, and runs the advertising that appears in these apps, working with networks like Google’s Admob.

Facebook already has more than 200 million mobile users across smartphones and feature handsets; and it has been gradually adding more mobile features to the service such as check-ins and local deals.

The acquisition is Facebook’s first outside of the U.S., and the fourth made this year. The others were mobile group messaging startup Beluga; Rel8tion, a hyperlocal mobile ad startup still in stealth mode; and “social” recruiting service Pursuit.

We don’t yet know exactly what Facebook plans to do with Snaptu under its wing:

— It could be that the social network will in future use Snaptu exclusively for its own mobile development.

— But what might also be likely is that Facebook will let Snaptu continue to create feature phone clients for third parties (if those third parties don’t mind the Facebook connection, that is). Then Facebook could use Snaptu’s expertise to integrate those other services into its own mobile platform, as part of its strategy to become the central hub of access for an individual’s “social graph” of contacts and information.

Update: Simon Davies, one of Snaptu’s co-founders, tells mocoNews that he is “adding nothing for now” to the news of the announcement. Snaptu estimates that 95 percent of the world’s mobile phone users are not using smartphones. That makes this acquisition a very key and significant move on the part of Facebook in targeting that group with its services.

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