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Microsoft's latest mobile app acquisition shows it gets urgency

Gregg Keizer | Feb. 13, 2015
Buys Sunrise, another Android and iOS mobile app developer, to beef up Outlook.

Microsoft on Wednesday confirmed that it had purchased mobile calendar app maker Sunrise Atelier, the second major acquisition in the last 11 weeks of a developer experienced in creating Android and iOS apps.

Financial terms were not disclosed by either Microsoft or the privately-held Sunrise, although reports have circulated that the price tag was about $100 million.

The Sunrise purchase was Microsoft's second deal since Dec. 1, 2014, when it bought Acompli, the creator of the same-named email client for Android and iOS, for a reported $200 million.

"We are making this acquisition because we believe a reinvention in the way people use calendars on mobile devices is long overdue," said Rajesh Jha, head of Outlook and Office 365 at Microsoft, in a Wednesday blog announcing the Sunrise buy.

Unlike the Acompli email apps, which were pulled from Google Play and Apple's App Store after their maker was snapped up by Microsoft, the Sunrise Calendar apps will remain available, as will the OS X version and a browser-based app.

Microsoft, which folded Acompli into its new Outlook app for Android and iOS, has not said whether it will do the same with Sunrise. "In the coming months, we'll share more about how we'll build on [Sunrise's] success and apply Sunrise's innovations to other Microsoft apps and services," Jha wrote.

Most expect Microsoft to push Sunrise into Outlook on Android and iOS, including Jan Dawson, chief analyst with Jackdaw Research. "But all this technology has to make it back into the desktop clients as well," said Dawson, talking about Outlook in the personal computer editions of Office for Windows and OS X. "Even the new Outlook for Mac is very much the old kind of Outlook. What's worth watching is how much the desktop clients are driven by this acquisition."

While some have seen Microsoft's acquisitions of Acompli and Sunrise as a sign of weakness -- that the software giant is spending its way into its cross-platform strategy because it cannot create well-received mobile apps on its own -- Dawson disagreed.

"These signal an openness at Microsoft to do things differently," Dawson said. "Microsoft does good stuff in-house, but much of the innovation today is done by startups on mobile platforms, and Microsoft is wisely tapping into that."

Last week, after reports first surfaced of Microsoft's purchase of Sunrise, Dawson characterized the recent mobile app developer acquisitions in largely positive terms. In a piece on Tech.pinions, Dawson said they signaled that Microsoft understood both the urgency of moving on its CEO's "cloud-first, mobile-first" strategy and the difficulty in doing that exclusively within the company.

"I think the two are connected," said Dawson. "Part of the urgency is the culture within Microsoft. They sense that they have to get moving on this cross-platform mobile strategy, and that they do not have the skill sets and right technologies themselves."


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