Asia

Sony announces its first 5G flagship, the triple lens Xperia 1 II

Posted by | 5g, Asia, barcelona, Digital Cameras, digital imaging, Mobile, smartphone, smartphone makers, smartphones, Sony, sony xperia, Sony Xperia 1II, Verizon, zeiss | No Comments

Sony has announced its first 5G smartphone: The Xperia 1 II. (For the curious or confused, it is pronounced ‘Xperia One, Mark Two.’)

“No one understands the entertainment experience better than Sony,” said president of mobile communications, Mitsuya Kishida, claiming the company is “uniquely positioned” in the era of 5G cellular technology to offer its target users an “enriched” experience thanks to Sony’s extensive content portfolio.

“Whether you are a broadcast professional who requires dynamic speed or an everyday user who desires enhanced entertainment, Xperia with 5G takes your mobile experience to the next level,” he said.

As ever with Sony — a major b2b supplier of image sensors to other smartphone makers (rather than a major seller of its own phones) — it’s made the camera a huge focus for the new Android 10 flagship, which has a 6.5in 21:9 “CinemaWide” 4K HDR OLED (3840×1644) display and is powered by a Qualcomm 865 Snapdragon chip (with 8GB of RAM on board).

Round the back the Xperia 1 II packs three lenses which offer a selection of focal lengths (16mm, 24mm and 70mm) for capturing different types of photos — from super wide angle to portraits.

All three rear lenses have a 12MP sensor, while round the front there’s an 8MP lens. Sony is also using Zeiss optics for the first time in a smartphone, expanding a long-running collaboration to a new device type.

Talking up the camera, Kishida touted ultra-fast, low light autofocus, noting that it supports 20fps autofocus and auto-tracking burst (which he called a world first in a smartphone) for capturing crisp action shots.

“Our new continuous auto focus keeps tracking of moving subjects. What’s special about this is with 20fps it calculates the object 3x per frame — that’s 60x per second — capturing the very moment,” he said.

“With the power and speed of 5G you will be able to share those moments more quickly and more easily across the network,” he added.

Another photo-friendly feature is real-time eye auto focus. Sony demoed this by showing it working on a video of a cat playing with a toy. So, tl;dr: Sony has trained its model on data-sets of pets too, not just humans.

A ‘Photo Pro’ interface on the handset, meanwhile, has been designed to be familiar to users of Sony’s mirrorless Alpha cameras — letting photographers tune shots via access to tweakable parameters they’re used to using on Sony’s high end digital cameras.

Sony is paying the same mind to video makers, with a video editing interface on the device that offers features such as touch autofocus and custom white balance — which Kishida said will help “visual storytellers” control the camera more easily.

There’s also a noise reduction feature to improve audio capture.

Best of all, the Xperia 1II has a 3.5mm headphone jack — enabling audiophiles to enjoy the simple pleasure of plugging in their favorite pair of high-end wired headphones and tuning out everything else.

Kishida flagged the use of an AI technology, called DSEE Ultimate, which he said upscales the sound signal to “near high resolution audio” — including when streaming. “This the best on the go acoustic experience available,” he claimed.

On the games front he touted a collaboration that will let users of the device play a mobile optimized version of Call of Duty using PlayStation 4’s DualShock 4 wireless controller.

The handset, meanwhile, packs a 4,000mAh battery as well as fast wireless charging.

Per Kishida the Xperia 1 II will start shipping from Spring onwards, though it’s not yet clear which markets Sony will be bringing the device to. (Last year the company’s mobile division was reported to have defocused most of the global market in a bid to focus on profitability.)

The Xperia 1 II may have a fairly niche target buyer, as Sony is a relative bit player in consumer smartphone sales vs giants like Samsung and Huawei, but is intended to act as a showcase for what the company’s camera technologies can offer other mobile makers.

Sony’s mobile chief was making the announcements at a virtual press conference screened via YouTube after the company became one of the first big companies to pull out of attending the Mobile World Congress tradeshow.

MWC’s organizer, the GSMA, subsequently cancelled the annual mobile industry event, which had been due to take place in Barcelona this week, after scores of exhibitors said they would not attend due to public health concerns attached to the novel coronavirus.

MWC typically attracts more than 100,000 visitors across four days. So the sight of Sony’s press conference being streamed to an empty room — entirely devoid of cameras, claps or woos but still with built in pauses for the media to take photos of the new hardware — was more than a little surreal.

Kishida had another 5G handsets to tease: the Xperia Pro, a flagship handset aimed at video professionals. It features 5G mm wavelength technology for improved capability to stream high-resolution video, as well as a handy micro HDMI port for easy plugging in of other high end camera kit.

Sony touted tests it’s done with U.S. carrier Verizon (TechCrunch’s parent company) to use the forthcoming 5G handset for live streaming of live sports events.

“Sony’s expertise and long history in providing profession digital imaging solutions is very unique,” added Kishida. “Only Sony has such deep and well established relationships, and we are bringing decades of experience to an end-to-end solution — from professional content creation to mobile communications technology in 5G.”

There was a mid-range smartphone announcement, too, also shipping from Spring onwards: The Xperia 10 II packs a 6″ display and also features a triple lens camera as well as water resistance.

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Fintech startups raised $34B in 2019

Posted by | Asia, bright health, cb insights, Finance, funding, lemonade, MassChallenge, Mobile, money, Online lending, payments, Paytm, Startups | No Comments

Financial services startups raised less money in 2019 than they did in 2018 as VC firms looked to back late stage firms and focused on developing markets, a new report has revealed.

According to research firm CB Insights’ annual report published this week, fintech startups across the world raised $33.9 billion* in total last year across 1,912 deals*, down from $40.8 billion they picked up by participating in 2,049 deals the year before.

It’s a comprehensive report, which we recommend you read in full here (your email is required to access it), but below are some of the key takeaways.

  • Early stage startups struggled to attract money: Per the report, financing for startups looking to close Seed or Series A dropped to a five-year low in 2019. On the flip side, money pouring into Series B or beyond startups was at record five-year high.

    Early-stage deals dropped to a 12-quarter low as deal share globally shifts to mid- and late-stages (CB Insights)

  • Emerging and frontier markets were at the centre stage of the most of the action: South America, Africa, Australia, and Southeast Asia all topped their annual highs last year.
  • Asia outpaced Europe in the second half of last year on both number of deals and bulk of capital raised. In Q3, European startups raised $1.6 billion through 95 deals, compared to $1.8 billion amassed by Asian startups across 157 deals. In Q4, a similar story was at play: European startups participated in 100 rounds to raise $1.2 billion, compared to $2.14 billion* raised by Asian startups across 125 deals*.
  • Emergence of 24 new fintech unicorns in 2019: 8 fintech startups including Next Insurance, Bight Health, Flywire, High Radius, Ripple, and Figure attained the unicorn status in Q4 2019, and 16 others made it to the list throughout the rest of the last year.

    The fintech market globally today has 67 unicorns as of earlier this month (CB Insights)

  • Insurtech sector, or startups such as Lemonade, Hippo, Next, Wefox, Bright Health that are offering insurance services, got a major boost last year. They raised 6.2 billion last year, up from $3.2 billion in 2018.
  • Startups building solutions such as invoicing and taxing services and payroll and payments solutions for small and medium businesses also received the nod of VCs. In the U.S. alone, where more than 140 startups are operating in the space, raised $4 billion. In many more markets, such startups are beginning to emerge. In India, for instance Open and NiYo are building neo-banks for small businesses and they both raised money last year.
  • Nearly 50% of all funding to fintech startups was concentrated in 83-mega rounds (those of size $100 million or above.): According to the research firm, 2019 was a record year for such rounds across the globe, except in Europe.

    2019 saw 83 mega-rounds totaling $17.2B, a record year in every market except Europe

  • Funding of Germany-based startups reached an annual high: 65 deals in 2019 resulted in $1.79 billion raise, compared to 56 deals and raise of $757 million in 2018, and 66 deals and $622 million raise in 2017.
  • Financial startups in Southeast Asia (SEA) raised $993 million across 124 rounds in 2019 in what was their best year.

*CB Insights report includes a $666 million financing round of Paytm . It was incorrectly reported by some news outlets and the $666 million raise was part of the $1 billion round the Indian startup had revealed weeks prior. We have adjusted the data accordingly.

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PC shipments expected to drop this year because of coronavirus outbreak

Posted by | Apple, Asia, Gadgets, hardware | No Comments

The coronavirus outbreak could result in at least a 3.3% drop — and as high as a 9% dip — in the volume of PCs that will ship globally this year, research firm Canalys reported Thursday evening in its revised projections to clients.

PC shipments will be down between 10.1% to 20.6% in Q1 2020, the firm estimated. The impact will remain visible in Q2, when the shipments are expected to drop between 8.9% (best-case scenario, per Canalys) and 23.4% (worst-case scenario), it said.

In the best-case scenario, the outbreak would mean 382 million units will ship in 2020, down 3.4% from 396 million last year.

The worst case makes a deeper dent, stating that about 362 million units will ship this year, down 8.5% from last year.

“In the best-case scenario, production levels are expected to revert to full capacity by April 2020, hence the biggest hit will be to sell-in shipments in the first two quarters, with the market recovering in Q3 and Q4,” the firm said.

“Thus, worldwide PC market shipments are expected to decline 3.4% year on year in 2020, with Q1 2020 down by 10% and Q2 2020 by 9%. PC market supply will normalize by Q3 2020. On a yearly basis, Canalys expects the worldwide PC market will slowly begin its recovery starting in 2021.”

The worst-case scenario assumes that production levels will not return to their full capacity by June 2020. “Under the assumptions of this scenario, production and demand levels in China will take even longer to recover and Q2 will suffer a decline on a par with Q1 as a consequence. It will be as late as Q4 2020 until we see a market recovery.”

In either of the scenarios, China, one of the world’s largest PC markets, will be most impacted. In worst-case scenarios, “the Chinese market will suffer heavily in 2020 under this scenario, with a 12% year-on-year decline over 2019, and subsequent stabilization taking even longer, with 2021 forecast shipments lagging 6 million behind the best-case scenario. The expected CAGR between 2021 and 2024 in China is 6.3%,” Canalys stated.

China, the global hub for production and supply chain, moved to contain the impact of coronavirus by first extending the official Lunar New Year holidays, which was followed by stringent travel restrictions to keep citizens safe. “This resulted in a significant drop in offline retail traffic and a dramatic fall in consumer purchases,” Canalys analysts said.

The outbreak has also resulted in supply shortages of components, such as PCBs and memory in China and other markets. “Likewise, channel partners have received notifications from key PC vendors over the last two weeks that their PC shipments and replacement parts can be expected to arrive in up to 14 weeks – over three times the usual delivery time – depending on where partners are located,” the firm said.

“Technology vendors and channel partners in the Asia Pacific region face the unexpected challenge of coping with the sudden outbreak of COVID-19 (coronavirus). The crisis was largely unforeseen, even in mid-January. Most leaders this year were anticipating disruption from political instability and natural disasters, not an epidemic,” wrote Sharon Hiu, an analyst at Canalys in a separate report.

The outbreak has impacted several more industries, including smartphones, automobiles, television, smart speakers and video game consoles.

Foxconn, a key manufacturer for Apple, said on Thursday that its 2020 revenue will be impacted by Wuhan coronavirus. The firm said its factories in India, Vietnam and Mexico are fully loaded and it is planning to expand overseas.

Earlier this month, Apple said it does not expect to meet revenue guidance for March quarter due to constrained iPhone supply and low demand due to the store closures in China.

The U.S. giant is expected to miss its schedule for mass producing a widely rumored affordable iPhone, while inventories for existing models could remain low until April or longer, Nikkei Asian Review reported on Wednesday.

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MWC hangs by a thread after Nokia, DT and other big names back out

Posted by | Asia, Gadgets, hardware, Nokia | No Comments

More big names are stepping Mobile World Congress, the world’s biggest phone and telecom trade fair, prompting the organizers to urgently decide what they wish to do going forward.

Nokia, one of the omnipresent firms at major tech trade conferences, won’t be attending this year’s Mobile World Congress. It cited health and safety concerns over coronavirus outbreak. Electronics giant HMD, which sells smartphones under Nokia brand, cited similar reasoning for its withdrawal, too.

The iconic Finnish firm, one of the cornerstone companies at MWC, and HMD have become the latest to back out of the trade fair. In recent days, scores of firms including Ericsson, Amazon, Vivo, LG, Facebook and Sony have withdrawn their participation from the world’s biggest smartphones-focused trade show.

German telecommunications giant Deutsche Telekom, BT, Britain’s biggest telecommunications group, and London-headquartered telecoms giant Vodafone have also backed out citing coronavirus outbreak, they announced on Wednesday. French-Italian semiconductor manufacturer STMicroelectronics is also not attending, it said.

However on Wednesday afternoon (CET) Orange denied a Reuters report it won’t attend, telling us it still hadn’t taken a decision on whether to pull out or not. “We are awaiting further communication from the GSMA regarding the event,” a spokeswoman for the operator said.

Orange CEO Stéphane Richard is the current GSMA chair.

MWC attracts over 100,000 attendees, abd thousands of companies and high-profile executives use this global platform to broker deals and unveil their upcoming gadgets and innovations to the world.

The trade fair also contributes to the bottom line of Barcelona city. This year, the four-day trade show was scheduled to take place from February 27.

Like Samsung, Huawei and Ericsson, Nokia occupies swathes of exhibition space which will now be empty. But also, it’s arguably one of the whole reasons for MWC existing in the first place.

— Ingrid (@ingridlunden) February 12, 2020

“While the health and safety of our employees is our absolute priority, we also recognize that we have a responsibility to the industry and our customers. In view of this, we have taken the necessary time to evaluate a fast-moving situation, engage with the GSMA and other stakeholders, regularly consult external experts and authorities, and plan to manage risks based on a wide range of scenarios. The conclusion of that process is that we believe the prudent decision is to cancel our participation at Mobile World Congress,” Nokia said in a statement.

The high-profile no-shows should put more pressure on GSMA, the body that organizes the event, to cancel this year’s edition of the trade show. GSMA acknowledged the safety risks to attendees in an email on Sunday, but it ducked away from assuming any liabilities at the trade show. As my colleague Romain Dillet pointed out, the email appeared to have triggered companies to withdraw their participation.

On Tuesday, Spanish publication El Pais reported that the GSMA executives would meet on Friday and consider their next steps, which could include suspending this year’s event. A spokesperson declined comment to TechCrunch.

The GSMA executives have moved to have that talk today, according to a report. Earlier local press had reported the operator association had decided to go ahead with the event — but in a more recent update La Vanguardia reports the GSMA has called another meeting to discuss the future of MWC 2020.

The organization has previously declined to comment on internal meetings.

You can check out the full list of companies that have withdrawn from MWC so far this year below.

This report was updated with additional information about Orange and the developing situation at the GSMA

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Samsung teases videocalling on its next foldable during the Oscars

Posted by | Asia, foldables, Gadgets, Mobile, Motorola Razr, Samsung, Samsung Electronics, samsung galaxy, Samsung Galaxy Z Flip, smartphones, south korea, The Oscars | No Comments

It was South Korea’s — rather than Netflix’s — night at the Oscars, thanks to Bong Joon-ho’s biting class satire Parasite, which won a well-deserved best picture

But tech giant Samsung appears to have been hoping to steal a little of the national limelight. The Korean phone maker chose a prime Oscars ad slot to show off a 360-degree view of its next foldable, running it as a teaser for its Unpacked 2020 unboxing event, which takes place in San Francisco tomorrow.

#Samsung showing off the new foldable during the #Oscars ahead of #unpacked2020 pic.twitter.com/PD9KdZKjmB

— Carolina Milanesi (@caro_milanesi) February 10, 2020

The ad shows the flip phones from all angles, opening and closing while the Comic Strip sounds of Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot pop and crackle in the background.

Notably we see the foldable propping itself up, with the screen half or three-quarters open, for a hands-free face-time style chat. (In case you were wondering what the point of a flip phone might be in 2020.)

There’s also an eye-popping iridescent purple color-way on show that seems intended to make the most of the screen-concealing clamshell design. A black version does a much better job of blending into the background, and a brief side view of the phone shows what looks like a side-mounted fingerprint scanner as shown in earlier leaks.

And if you’re wondering how you’ll screen incoming calls when the clam is closed, the ad shows a micro display that tells you the name of the person calling. TL;DR: You can still ghost your frenemies while packing a flip.

We’ve seen renders of the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip leak online before but this is an official full view of the foldable Samsung hopes will spark a retro fashion craze for clamshell flip phones. (See also the rebooted Motorola Razr.)

Samsung will also, of course, be hoping this foldable can bend without immediately breaking.

Stay tuned for all the details from Samsung Unpacked 2020 as we get them (we’re especially keen to find out the price-tag for this foldable), including our first look at the next flagship Galaxy S device.

TechCrunch’s intrepid hardware editor, Brian Heater, will be on the ground in San Francisco tomorrow to get hands on with all the new kit so you don’t have to.

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Twitter-backed ShareChat eyes fantasy sports in India

Posted by | Apps, Asia, dream11, Facebook, Gaming, Hotstar, india, sequoia capital, sharechat, Social, Twitter, Xiaomi | No Comments

The growing market of fantasy sports in India may soon have a new and odd entrant: ShareChat .

The local social networking app, which in August last year raised $100 million in a financing round led by Twitter, has developed a fantasy sports app and has been quietly testing it for six months, two sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

ShareChat’s fantasy sports app, called Jeet11, allows betting on cricket and football matches and has already amassed more than 120,000 registered users, the sources said. The app, or its website, does not disclose its association with ShareChat.

A ShareChat spokesperson confirmed the existence of the app and said the startup was testing the product.

Jeet11 is not available for download on the Google Play Store due to the Android maker’s guidelines on betting apps, so ShareChat has been distributing it through Xiaomi’s GetApps app store and the Jeet11 website, and has been promoting it on Instagram. It is also available as a web app.

Fantasy sports, a quite popular business in many markets, has gained some traction in India in recent years. Dream11, backed by gaming giant Tencent, claimed to have more than 65 million users early last year. It has raised about $100 million to date and is already valued north of $1 billion.

Bangalore-based MPL, which counts Sequoia Capital India as an investor and has raised more than $40 million, appointed Virat Kohli, the captain of the Indian cricket team, as its brand ambassador last year.

In the last two years, scores of startups have emerged to grab a slice of the market, and the vast majority of them are focused on cricket. Cricket is the most popular sport in India, just ask Disney’s Hotstar, which claimed to have more than 100 million daily active users during the cricket season last year.

Or ask Facebook, which unsuccessfully bid $600 million to secure streaming rights of the IPL cricket tournament. It has since grabbed rights to some cricket content and appointed the Hotstar chief as its India head.

So it comes as no surprise that many sports betting apps have signed cricketers as their brand ambassador. Hala-Play has roped in Hardik Pandya and Krunal Pandya, while Chennai-based Fantain Sports has appointed Suresh Raina.

But despite the growing popularity of fantasy sports apps, where users pick players and bet real money on their performances, the niche is still sketchy in many markets that consider it betting. In fact, Twitter itself restricts promotion of fantasy sports services in many markets across the world.

In India, too, several states, including Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Sikkim and Telangana, have banned fantasy sports betting. Jeet11 currently requires users to confirm that they don’t live in any of the restricted states before signing up for the service.

“It doesn’t help matters either that the fantasy sports business’ attempts at legitimacy involve trying to be seen as video games — a cursory glance at a speakers panel for any Indian video game developer event is evidence of this — rather than riding on its own merits,” said Rishi Alwani, a long-time analyst of Indian gaming market and publisher of news outlet the Mako Reactor.

An executive who works at one of the top fantasy sports startups in India, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that despite handing out cash rewards to thousands of users each day, it is still challenging to retain customers after the conclusion of any popular cricket tournament. “And that’s after you have somehow convinced them to visit your website or download the app,” he said.

For ShareChat, which has been exploring ways to monetize its 60 million-plus users and posted a loss of about $58 million on no revenue in the financial year ending March 31, that’s anything but music to the ears. In recent months, the startup, which serves users in more than a dozen local languages, has been experimenting with ads.

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No pan-EU Huawei ban as Commission endorses 5G risk mitigation plan

Posted by | 5g, Asia, computer security, Europe, european commission, european union, huawei, Internet of Things, Mobile, mobile network operators, network management, telecommunications, telemedicine, Trump administration, UK government, United Kingdom, United States | No Comments

The European Commission has endorsed a risk mitigation approach to managing 5G rollouts across the bloc — meaning there will be no pan-EU ban on Huawei. Rather it’s calling for Member States to coordinate and implement a package of “mitigating measures” in a 5G toolbox it announced last October and has endorsed today.

“Through the toolbox, the Member States are committing to move forward in a joint manner based on an objective assessment of identified risks and proportionate mitigating measures,” it writes in a press release.

It adds that Member States have agreed to “strengthen security requirements, to assess the risk profiles of suppliers, to apply relevant restrictions for suppliers considered to be high risk including necessary exclusions for key assets considered as critical and sensitive (such as the core network functions), and to have strategies in place to ensure the diversification of vendors”.

The move is another blow for the Trump administration — after the UK government announced yesterday that it would not be banning so-called “high risk” providers from supplying 5G networks.

Instead the UK said it will place restrictions on such suppliers — barring their kit from the “sensitive” ‘core’ of 5G networks, as well as from certain strategic sites (such as military locations), and placing a 35% cap on such kit supplying the access network.

However the US has been amping up pressure on the international community to shut the door entirely on the Chinese tech giant, claiming there’s inherent strategic risk in allowing Huawei to be involved in supplying such critical infrastructure — with the Trump administration seeking to demolish trust in Chinese-made technology.

Next-gen 5G is expected to support a new breed of responsive applications — such as self-driving cars and personalized telemedicine — where risks, should there be any network failure, are likely to scale too.

But the Commission take the view that such risks can be collectively managed.

The approach to 5G security continues to leave decisions on “specific security” measures as the responsibility of Member States. So there’s a possibility of individual countries making their own decisions to shut out Huawei. But in Europe the momentum appears to be against such moves.

“The collective work on the toolbox demonstrates a strong determination to jointly respond to the security challenges of 5G networks,” the EU writes. “This is essential for a successful and credible EU approach to 5G security and to ensure the continued openness of the internal market provided risk-based EU security requirements are respected.”

The next deadline for the 5G toolbox is April 2020, when the Commission expects Member States to have implemented the recommended measures. A joint report on their implementation will follow later this year.

Key actions being endorsed in the toolbox include:

  •     Strengthen security requirements for mobile network operators (e.g. strict access controls, rules on secure operation and monitoring, limitations on outsourcing of specific functions, etc.);
  •     Assess the risk profile of suppliers; as a consequence,  apply relevant restrictions for suppliers considered to be high risk – including necessary exclusions to effectively mitigate risks – for key assets defined as critical and sensitive in the EU-wide coordinated risk assessment (e.g. core network functions, network management and orchestration functions, and access network functions);
  •     Ensure that each operator has an appropriate multi-vendor strategy to avoid or limit any major dependency on a single supplier (or suppliers with a similar risk profile), ensure an adequate balance of suppliers at national level and avoid dependency on suppliers considered to be high risk; this also requires avoiding any situations of lock-in with a single supplier, including by promoting greater interoperability of equipment;

The Commission also recommends that Member States should contribute towards increasing diversification and sustainability in the 5G supply chain and co-ordinate on standardization around security objectives and on developing EU-wide certification schemes.

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Apple to start online sales in India in Q3 this year

Posted by | Apple, Asia, Earnings, eCommerce, Flipkart, Gadgets, hardware, india, Paytm, paytm mall, Tim Cook | No Comments

Apple’s much-awaited online store in India will be operational starting Q3 this year, a little longer than previously expected, a source familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The iPhone-maker said in August last year that it was “eager to serve [customers of India] online and in-store with the same experience and care that Apple customers around the world enjoy.”

While the company never shared a firm timeline on when the online and brick-and-mortar stores would be set up in India, it was originally aiming to start the online sales in the country in the first quarter of this year, the source said. (The Q1 launch timeline was first signaled by Bloomberg, which reported that the operations would begin “within months.”)

An Apple spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.

The source said the company was still working on the logistics of setting up the store and that the quarter between July and September was the new tentative deadline. Apple CEO Tim Cook would likely plan an India trip for the announcement, the source said.

The company’s first official physical store in India, to be situated in Mumbai, will take an additional few months of time for setting up and might not be ready by this year, the source said.

India, the world’s second largest smartphone market, eased sourcing norms for single-brand retailers last year, paving the way for companies like Apple to open online stores before they set up presence in the brick-and-mortar market.

Currently, Apple sells its products in India through partnered third-party offline retailers and e-commerce platforms such as Amazon India, Flipkart and Paytm Mall. Prior to New Delhi’s policy change, Apple had requested the government numerous times to relax the local foreign direct investment (FDI) rules.

Apple executives have long expressed disappointment at Amazon India, Flipkart and Paytm Mall for offering heavy discounts on the iPhone and MacBook Air to boost their respective GMV metrics, people familiar with the matter have told TechCrunch.

iPhone shipments in India grew 6% in 2019 compared with a 43% decline in 2018, according to research firm Counterpoint, which projected that the growth would continue this year.

Apple on Tuesday posted a record revenue of $91.8 billion for the quarter that ended in December. Cook said in the earnings call that India was among the markets where the company’s revenue grew in “double-digit.”

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Adding India to your business

Posted by | Amazon, Android, Asia, Brainly, Column, duolingo, FlixBus, india, LinkedIn, Netflix, Paytm, Snap, Snapchat, Spotify, Tinder, Truecaller, Twitter, Vyng, wattpad | No Comments
Kumar Shah
Contributor

Kumar Shah is the founder of Transit Capital, a cross-border VC firm that partners with growth-stage entrepreneurs building global champions.

At the start of recruiting season in business school, a top-tier consulting firm sent an invite to the entire class: “over your career, you will either be sitting with us or across from us. We would like to get to know you.”

If you’re building a large-scale technology startup, sooner or later, you should be having a conversation about the Indian market. India’s growth is often compared to China’s, but the big difference between these two markets is that India has an open internet infrastructure, where the best product wins.

In the last decade, Indian consumers have enjoyed the trifecta of cheap smartphones (courtesy of Android), some of the lowest data rates on the planet (courtesy of Mukesh Ambani’s telecom firm Jio) and rising disposable income. Most consumer startups from the U.S., Europe and China have already seen a large number of users organically adopt their product as hundreds of millions of Indians have come online.

Some examples:

  • for most of 2018 and 2019, Tinder was the highest grossing app in India
  • Quora and Pinterest are consistently in the top 30 most visited websites
  • India is the largest or second-largest user base for Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Linkedin, Twitter, Snapchat and many other platforms

Snapchat, in particular, has seen tremendous growth in the Indian market. In March 2019, Snap launched eight new languages — five of which are spoken in India. Consequently, the company reported in Q3 2019 that 6 million out of the 7 million new Daily Active Users added were from outside the U.S. Snapchat’s stock is up almost 3x in the last year, well ahead of Nasdaq’s performance in the same period.

As a cross-border investment firm investing in U.S. and European companies to help them grow in India, we thought it would be useful to share our conversations with growth-stage entrepreneurs about the Indian market. In this article, we will focus on consumer-facing (B2C and B2B2C) companies.

What segment of India do you want to target first? 

While everyone thinks of India as a singular 1.3 billion-consumer market, there are, in fact, multiple sub-segments that have their own characteristics and are acquired differently. The India 1 segment, arguably the most lucrative, constitutes the 25+ million Indians who have credit cards, form the 10 million iPhone install base and were Netflix’s first 500,000 users in the country. The India 2 segment requires products that work in languages other than English and potentially different product features (such as voice input). Snapchat is now focused on acquiring India 2 users with its new language strategy.

What are the best ways to acquire users in this segment?

The short answer is — it depends. If you are in a category (such as gaming) that appeals to a broad demographic and geography, strategic partnerships with mobile OEMs or unicorns building super apps (Paytm and PhonePe for example) will give you a high-volume distribution channel. If you are a wellness app that is focused on India 1 users only, then it makes sense to prioritize channels or partnerships, such as hospital chains in Tier 1 cities, to acquire that segment of users. If you already have organic traction in the country, look at your analytics (for example, cities where your users are based, price range of phone models being used and so on) to understand your initial set of power users.

What is your monetization and pricing strategy? 

The monetization strategy that worked in your existing market(s) may not work in the Indian market. From both an addressable base of paying customers (see the install base of credit cards above) to the ARPU, Asian markets have significantly lagged their western counterparts.

The good news is that with the strong adoption of Unified Payments Interface (UPI), a first-of-its-kind payments protocol that can be implemented by third-party applications, there is almost no friction (or costs) to receive payment amounts as small as two cents. When in India, you should be using UPI.

While Tinder found success with subscription billing at U.S. prices, Netflix entered India with a ~$7/month billing plan in line with their global rates but realized that growth would only come through innovations such as mobile-only plans at $2.80/month. Apple and Spotify have been clear that they want to target the mass market and launched with plans that are close to $1.50/month, a significant discount to their U.S. and European plans.

While these companies have found success with subscription billing, more likely monetization models are advertising led (YouTube) or freemium. Are there features in your product that you can charge a premium for while still offering a subset of the product for free (and cover your direct costs through advertising)? Are there partnerships (such as the ones that Netflix and Amazon Video have signed with Indian telcos) where you can get paid indirectly for your core product?

Build your costs in line with your target segment and pricing

Now that you have a better idea of your target market size and expected pricing, you should build a cost structure that is in line with expected revenues. Most of the companies we track have acquired their first five million customers (or more) in India with an initial team of one to three people on the ground. From both a team build out as well as customer acquisition cost point of view, most companies have been disappointed that they have invested in resources well ahead of understanding the size of their target market and expected revenues.

Find a local partner

If you aren’t setting up a local team in the near term, we recommend having a local partner/shareholder that is aligned with your business and plans. From regular follow-ups on strategic conversations to keeping tabs on changes in regulations, having someone local who understands your business is critical to your entry and expansion plans. Similar to the scrutiny that internet companies face in other countries, India is also drafting regulations for localized data storage and mandating a local point of contact for companies that have more than 5 million users.

For entrepreneurs building global champions, having an India strategy is essential and can form the beachhead to expand into Southeast Asia and the Middle East. As Mary Meeker has repeatedly noted in her annual report, India and Indonesia will be the first and third-largest open internet markets in the world.

What excites our team is that India is already home to significant user bases for early and growth-stage private companies such as Truecaller (100 million daily users), Quora (second largest market), Duolingo (10 million users), Brainly (20 million users), Wattpad (3 million users) and Vyng (14 million installs), while others such as FlixBus are actively setting up operations.

We hope you found the above information helpful. And if you are building a global technology company, we would like to get to know you.

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Vivo beats Samsung for 2nd spot in Indian smartphone market

Posted by | Android, Asia, counterpoint, Gadgets, hardware, india, oppo, Samsung Electronics, smartphones, Xiaomi | No Comments

Samsung, which once led the smartphone market in India, slid to the third position in the quarter that ended in December, even as the South Korean giant continues to make major bets on the rare handset market that is still growing. 158 million smartphones shipped in India in 2019, up from 145 million the year before, according to research firm Counterpoint.

Chinese firm Vivo surpassed Samsung to become the second biggest smartphone vendor in India in Q4 2019. Xiaomi, with command over 27% of the market, maintained its top spot in the nation for the tenth consecutive quarter.

Vivo’s annual smartphone shipment grew 76% in 2019. The Chinese firm’s aggressive positioning of its budget S series of smartphones — priced between $100 to $150 (the sweet spot in India) — in the brick and mortar market and acceptance of e-commerce sales helped it beat Samsung, said Counterpoint analysts.

Vivo’s market share jumped 132% between Q4 of 2018 and Q4 of 2019, according to the research firm.

Realme, which spun out of Chinese smartphone maker Oppo, claimed the fifth spot. Oppo assumed the fourth position.

Samsung has dramatically lowered prices of some of its handsets in the country and also introduced smartphones with local features, but it is struggling to compete with an army of Chinese smartphone makers. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

Realme has taken the Indian market by storm. The two-year-old firm has replicated Xiaomi’s playbook in the country and so far focused on selling aggressively low-cost Android smartphones online.

Vivo and Oppo, on the other hand, have over the years expanded to smaller cities and towns in the country and inked deals with merchants. The companies have offered merchants fat commission to incentivize them to promote their handsets over those of the rivals.

Xiaomi, which entered India six years ago, sold handsets exclusively through online channels to cut overhead, but has since established presence in about 10,000 brick and mortar stores (including some through partnership with big retail chains). The company said in September last year that it had shipped 100 million smartphones in the country.

India surpasses the U.S.

The report, released late Friday (local time), also states that India, with 158 million smartphone shipments in 2019, took over the U.S. in annual smartphone shipment for the first time.

India, which was already the world’s second largest smartphone market for total handset install base, is now also the second largest market for annual shipment of smartphones.

Tarun Pathak, a senior analyst at Counterpoint, told TechCrunch that about 150 million to 155 million smartphone units were shipped in the U.S. in 2019.

As smartphone shipments decline in most countries, India has emerged as a rare market where people are still showing great appetite for new handsets. There are nearly half a billion smartphones in use in the country today — but more than half a billion people in the nation are yet to get one.

The nation’s slowing economy, however, is understandably making its mark on the smartphone market as well. The Indian smartphone market grew by 8.9% last year, compared to 10% in the previous year.

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