Microsoft grabs another mobile app shop, confirms Wunderlist purchase

Microsoft grabs another mobile app shop, confirms Wunderlist purchase

Microsoft today confirmed that it has acquired Wunderlist's German developer, notching another small shop with a stable of mobile apps.

Microsoft today confirmed that it has acquired Wunderlist's German developer, notching another small shop with a stable of mobile productivity apps.

Rumors of the acquisition circulated Monday, prompted by a report in the Wall Street Journal that claimed a deal had been signed for between $100 million and $200 million.

Microsoft and 6Wunderkinder GmbH, headquartered in Berlin, acknowledged the purchase today.

"The addition of Wunderlist to the Microsoft product portfolio fits squarely with our ambition to reinvent productivity for a mobile-first, cloud-first world," said Eran Megiddo, the general manager of Microsoft's OneNote group, in a short announcement.

Not surprisingly, 6Wunderkinder's founder and CEO trumpeted the payday. "Joining Microsoft gives us access to a massive wealth of expertise, technology and people that a small company like us could only dream of amassing on its own," wrote Christian Reber, also in a blog post.

Both Megiddo and Reber preemptively snuffed out any talk about reducing the reach of Wunderlist, which is available on Apple Watch, Android, Chrome OS, Kindle Fire, iOS, OS X, Windows and Windows Phone, as well as a browser-based app.

"Customers can expect the app to remain free in all of its existing markets," said Megiddo. "There will be no price changes for Wunderlist Pro or Wunderlist for Business customers and the service will continue to support a wide range of third-party apps and integrated services."

Wunderlist has operated on a freemium strategy, with features and enhanced functionality added for paid subscriptions, which include the $5 per month Pro and the same price on a per-set basis for the team-oriented Business plan.

"Acquiring these apps allows Microsoft to slip elements of its ecosystem, calendaring and maps, for instance, into tools that millions of iOS and Android users are already using," said Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research, in an email reply to questions today. "It's a strong statement of Microsoft's cross-platform strategy. In this case, the approach is to court gradually rather than force a switch."

Rubin was referring not only to today's acquisition of Wunderlist, but of Sunrise Atelier in February and Acompli in December 2014. Sunrise is known for its same-named calendar app, while Acompli developed mobile email clients for Android and iOS. Microsoft left Sunrise intact -- although it added the company's engineers to its Outlook-Office 365 group -- but folded Acompli into the Outlook team.

Megiddo's blogging the news may indicate that Wunderlist will fall under the OneNote sub-team, which is also part of the overarching Office unit. OneNote is, as the name implies, Microsoft's note-taking application, a cornerstone of its consumer productivity pitch.

Or maybe not.

"I don't see what unique features Microsoft is buying here," said Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research, in an interview. To-do list apps aimed at individuals are all very much alike, and in that regard, Wunderlist doesn't really stand out, he added. "Maybe it's what [Wunderlist] does with sharing and team to-dos," Dawson speculated. "Maybe this is, unlike the others, more about teams and groups than individuals."

Neither Megiddo or Reber detailed future plans for Wunderlist. The to-do app already features some integration with Sunrise: Two weeks ago, 6Wunderkinder said that Wunderlist items would sync to Microsoft's calendar.

Microsoft's spending spree -- at least $400 million for Acompli, Sunrise and 6Wunderkinder -- is part of CEO Satya Nadella's mission to remake Microsoft into a power player in mobile, a market that the firm had little enthusiasm for under the Ballmer regime. Nadella has made "mobile-first, cloud-first" his and Microsoft's mantra, and doubled down on mission statements by staking out productivity -- as a wide-cast term -- among consumers and businesses as another priority.

All three of the mobile app developer acquisitions have stuck to that theme of mobile and productivity. "Wunderlist seems to fit the pattern of acquiring apps with productivity features," agreed Dawson.

In February, when Microsoft confirmed the purchase of Sunrise, Dawson credited Microsoft with following through on the mobile-first concept, even though it had to pay for others to play. It's still in that phase, he said today, but it has to stop.

"This is fine as an interim strategy, but at some point Microsoft has to demonstrate that it's learning from these acquisitions, that it has added to its own DNA," Dawson said. "Acquiring other people's stuff is fine to catch up, but at some point it has to come from within or everyone will start wondering about Microsoft's ability to innovate."

Rubin echoed a cautionary note as well. "Microsoft must be careful not to rip out the integrations that these companies have done with Google services, as that could turn off loyal users," he said.

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