Search giant Google has acquired Sigmoid Labs, the startup behind the popular ‘Where is my Train’ app, as it looks to bolster efforts to build India-specific apps and services that appeal to first-time Internet and smartphone users in the country.
In a post on its website on Monday, Sigmoid announced that its ten-member team would become part of Google’s Next Billion User (NBU) group post the acquisition. A Google spokesperson confirmed the news, without disclosing the terms of the deal.
This is the second acquisition Google is making to boost its NBU initiative, having acquired four-month-old Halli Labs, founded by Pankaj Gupta, in July 2017.
'Where is my Train', rolled out in 2016, is among the most popular apps in its category, boasting 10 million downloads on Android. The app uses data from cellphone towers to triangulate the location of cellular devices, and in turn, that of a train. This way, the service doesn’t rely on Internet connectivity or global positioning system (GPS) to function, making it a good fit for India where Internet and smartphone penetration is still low.
“We created the “Where is my train” app with the mission to use technology to improve the lives of millions of Indian train travelers. Over time, we’ve improved the app to make it even more convenient and useful…” a post by Sigmoid Labs read. “That’s why we’re excited to share that Sigmoid Labs, the team behind the “Where is my train” app, is joining Google. We can think of no better place to help us achieve our mission, and we’re excited to join Google to help bring technology and information into more people’s hands.”
The acquisition is important for Google as the search giant is rolling out new products and services attuned to the needs of India’s majority new and upcoming Internet users. The company has said that these new users are very different from early adopters of the Internet and smartphones in India not only in terms of what they search online, but also the language they do it in.
Over the last one year, Google has launched an offline feature on YouTube, two-wheeler and bus routes on Google Maps, and a Hindi version of Google Assistant, among other things. It also has local payments app Tez (now called Google Pay), and Neighbourly, that crowdsources information from users in a Q&A styled app.
Having more use cases for Indian users and local languages support are the cornerstones of the Next Billion Users initiative, Rajan Anandan, vice-president, South East Asia and India at Google, had said in June.
The latest acquisition is a step in the same direction. With the ‘Where is my train’ platform, Google gets access to its users, their preferences, booking trends, payment methods and much more. It’s critical in India-- a country with the world’s largest railway network supporting about 14,000 trains every day.
It is not clear whether the app will continue in the same form and how it will integrate with other Google services. The company declined to comment further.