New Yandex browser escalates Russia’s search-engine wars

Oct 10, 2012

Last week Russia’s leading search engine Yandex launched its own web browser in an effort to stave off attempts by search giant Google to gain market share in Russia’s increasingly lucrative Internet space.
A necessary evolution

The new web browser, simply called Yandex.Browser, is designed to counter Google’s aggressive positioning in the Russian browser space. Google Chrome became Russia’s leading browser at the beginning of the year following a large marketing campaign. In June, Mozilla announced that Google would replace Yandex as the default search engine for Russia in the new version of its popular Firefox browser as part of a three-year global deal reportedly worth $900 million.


Given that many surfers do not change the default settings, Google’s browser dominance started to become a threat to Yandex’s hegemony over the Russian search market. It became clear to Yandex CEO Arkady Volozh that the company would have to change its strategy [ru]: Where before Yandex focused on building alliances with other companies, it would now start to develop its own platforms.

Since 2011, Google has managed to grab 4 percent of Yandex’s market share in Russia.But Yandex still has by far the biggest share of the search market, dealing with six of every ten Russian search queries. Google, a distant second, performs about one in four.


A lean, mean browsing machine

Speed is the main selling point for browsers these days, and Yandex.Browser promises to be as fast as its competitors. The new browser is built [ru] on the same open-source Chromium engine as Google Chrome. It should come as no surprise then, that the two browsers look very similar, and apart from branding added on top of the shell, a casual observer could say there is almost no difference at all.

One advantage Yandex does have over Chrome is its incorporation of the turbo mode technology of Norway’s Opera, which offers users on slow connections the chance to speed up their surfing by pushing web pages through cloud servers and compressing them for faster loading. A side effect of turbo mode is that it acts as a proxy server, which enables Internet users under repressive regimes easy access to banned websites. It has made Opera, which has a negligible market share in the rest of the world, a contender in CIS countries like Belarus and Kazakhstan.

So far, Yandex browser has received mixed reviews from the Russian blogosphere. While some have praised the new platform, others have argued it offers nothing new and is simply Chrome, disfigured, with less functionality.


Building an ecosystem

Yandex also bought a license for 40,000 Android applications from Opera, which allowed it to open its own worldwide Yandex.Store later this month. Yandex is negotiating with hardware manufacturers to have Yandex.Store pre-installed on their tablets and smartphones instead of the current default, Google Play. Yandex.Store will integrate Yandex.Music, a mobile music shop, Yandex.Money, an alternative to Paypal, and Yandex.Maps, which will replace Google Maps on all Apple devices. With its new browser and mobile marketplace, Yandex has now closed the circle, eliminating the need for Russian-speaking internauts to go outside of the Yandex ecosystem for any essential web service.

The Russian browser wars will really kick off later this year, when popular social network Mail.Ru will launch its ‘social’ browserAmigo.

About the Author

Steven Hermans

Steven Hermans is a freelance writer. His blog focuses on Central Asia.
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