The acquisition of UCWeb appears to be China’s largest tech acquisition. Financial terms are not disclosed, but the two firms call it the “biggest deal in Chinese internet history.” Internal letters reveal that the deal values UCWeb at far more than the $1.9 billion that Baidu paid for 91 Wireless, which is China’s largest internet acquisition to date.
Prior to this, Alibaba already held 66 percent of UCWeb. The e-commerce firm will buy the remaining shares of UCWeb in the form of its own stock and cash.
UCWeb will be fully integrated into Alibaba once the deal is complete, with the e-commerce firm forming the UCWeb mobile business group and UCWeb CEO Yu Yongfu acting as the chairman of the group. It will oversee operations of the browser, mobile search, location-based services, mobile gaming, app store and mobile reader services.
It is clear that Alibaba is seeking to get a greater hold of mobile internet users with UCWeb’s large userbase — the browser-maker recently hit 500 million quarterly users. It is strongest in China, where it claims a dominant market share of 65 percent.
UCWeb is also climbing in India, where it claims a 32 percent market share. It also says that it has strong growth in Russia, Vietnam, Indonesia and — interestingly — the US. The nine-year old company claims its app has at least 10 percent market share in 10 countries worldwide.
Alibaba previously invested in UC Web and recently pooled its collective brains with Shenma, a joint venture to offer a ‘mobile-centric search experience’ to users. UCWeb said its browser sees more than six billion mobile search queries per month — so Shenma is an attempt for Alibaba to reach these users, and in terms of e-commerce, direct them to its marketplaces including Taobao and Tmall.
In addition to semantic app search, Shenma is “deeply integrated” with a range of Alibaba products, including its Alipay payments service, and Taobao and T-Mall retail stores.
Alibaba has been struggling to get a firm grip on mobile. Alibaba’s CEO Jonathan Lu has pledged to continue the e-commerce giant’s string of big investments as it continues focusing on improving its services for mobile – and the company has launched mobile games and upped efforts to promote its chat app, woo mobile shoppers with free data and even give away free smartphones to retailers in China.