india

Google Pixel 4, Pixel 4 XL not launching in India

Posted by | Android, Asia, Gadgets, Google, google hardware event 2019, Government, hardware, india | No Comments

The Pixel 4 and Pixel XL smartphones that Google just unveiled at a press conference in New York won’t launch in India, one of the company’s key overseas markets, the Android-maker said on Tuesday.

The bottleneck lies in the headline feature Project Soli, a radar-based motion-sensing chip baked into the new Pixel smartphones that relies on using a certain frequency band — 60GHz mmWave. The company failed to secure permission from the local authority in India to use this frequency band, which the nation has yet to open for commercial usage, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. You may remember that in the U.S., the FCC approved the commercial usage of Soli earlier this year.

In a statement, a Google spokesperson said, “Google has a wide range of products that we make available in different regions around the world. We determine availability based on a variety of factors, including local trends, and product features. We decided not to make Pixel 4 available in India. We remain committed to our current Pixel phones and look forward to bringing future Pixel devices to India.”

The radar sensors on the new Pixel smartphones enable support for a number of human interactions, Sabrina Ellis, VP of Product Management at Google, said at the event today. “For instance, Pixel 4 has the fastest secure face unlock on a smartphone, because the process starts before you have even picked up the smartphone,” she claimed. “Motion sense prepares the camera when you reach for your Pixel 4, so you don’t need to tap the screen,” she added.

The radar sensor also enables other applications such as rejecting a call by just gesturing at the phone, Ellis said.

This is the first time Google has had to skip the launch of a phone in India, the second largest smartphone market and where all the Nexus and Pixel smartphones have launched a few days after their global unveiling.

Not launching the new Pixel smartphones won’t really hurt the company… at least financially speaking. The Pixel smartphones have failed to receive any substantial acceptance in the Indian market, especially as their prices increased over the years.

Even as 99% of smartphones shipped in India last year ran the Android mobile operating system, the vast majority of handsets carried a price tag of $200 or lower, research firm Counterpoint told TechCrunch.

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Africa’s top mobile phone seller Transsion lists in Chinese IPO

Posted by | africa, Beijing, China, Egypt, ethiopia, Exit, huawei, india, initial public offering, IPO, kenya, Mobile, mobile phone, Nigeria, Opera, Samsung, shanghai, Shanghai Stock Exchange, shenzhen, smartphone, smartphones, South Africa, Startups, Tanzania, TC, technology, Tecno, telecommunications, Transsion, Wapi Capital | No Comments

Chinese mobile phone and device maker Transsion has listed in an IPO on Shanghai’s STAR Market, a Transsion spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch. 

Headquartered in Shenzhen, Transsion is a top seller of smartphones in Africa under its Tecno brand. The company has also started to support venture funding of African startups.

Transsion issued 80 million A shares at an opening price of 35.15 yuan (≈ $5.00) to raise 2.8 billion yuan (or ≈ $394 million).

A shares are the common shares issued by mainland Chinese companies and are normally available for purchases only by mainland citizens. 

Transsion’s IPO prospectus is downloadable (in Chinese) and its STAR Market listing application is available on the Shanghai Stock Exchange’s website.

STAR is the Shanghai Stock Exchange’s new Nasdaq-style board for tech stocks that went live in July with some 25 companies going public.

Transsion plans to spend 1.6 billion yuan (or $227 million) of its STAR Market raise on building more phone assembly hubs, and around 430 million yuan ($62 million) on research and development, including a mobile phone R&D center in Shanghai, a company spokesperson said.

To support its African sales network, Transsion maintains a manufacturing facility in Ethiopia. The company recently announced plans to build an industrial park and R&D facility in India for manufacture of phones to Africa.

The IPO comes after Transsion announced its intent to go public and filed its first docs with the Shanghai Stock Exchange in April.

Listing on STAR Market puts Transsion on China’s new exchange — seen as an extension of Beijing’s ambition to become a hub for tech startups to raise public capital. Chinese regulators lowered profitability requirements for the STAR Market, which means pre-profit ventures can list.

China Star Market Opening July 2019 1

Transsion’s IPO comes when the company is actually in the black. The firm generated 22.6 billion yuan ($3.29 billion) in revenue in 2018, up from 20 billion yuan a year earlier. Net profit for the year slid to 654 million yuan, down from 677 million yuan in 2017, according to the firm’s prospectus.

Transsion sold 124 million phones globally in 2018, per company data. In Africa, Transsion holds 54% of the feature phone market — through its brands Tecno, Infinix and Itel — and in smartphone sales is second to Samsung and before Huawei, according to International Data Corporation stats.

Transsion has R&D centers in Nigeria and Kenya and its sales network in Africa includes retail shops in Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Egypt. The company also attracted attention for being one of the first known device makers to optimize its camera phones for African complexions.

On a 2019 research trip to Addis Ababa, TechCrunch learned the top entry-level Tecno smartphone was the W3, which lists for 3,600 Ethiopian Birr, or roughly $125.

In Africa, Transsion’s ability to build market share and find a sweet spot with consumers on price and features gives it prominence in the continent’s booming tech scene.

Africa already has strong mobile-phone penetration, but continues to undergo a conversion from basic USSD phones, to feature phones, to smartphones.

Smartphone adoption on the continent is low, at 34%, but expected to grow to 67% by 2025, according to GSMA.

This, added to an improving internet profile, is key to Africa’s tech scene. In top markets for VC and startup origination — such as Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa — thousands of ventures are building business models around mobile-based products and digital applications.

If Transsion’s IPO enables higher smartphone conversion on the continent, that could enable more startups and startup opportunities — from fintech to VOD apps.

Another interesting facet to Transsion’s IPO is its potential to create greater influence from China in African tech, in particular as the Shenzhen company moves more definitely toward venture investing.

In August, Transsion-funded Future Hub teamed up with Kenya’s Wapi Capital to source and fund early-stage African fintech startups.

China’s engagement with African startups has been light compared to China’s deal-making on infrastructure and commodities — further boosted in recent years as Beijing pushes its Belt and Road plan.

Transsion’s IPO is the second event this year — after Chinese owned Opera’s venture spending in Nigeria — to reflect greater Chinese influence and investment in the continent’s digital scene.

So in coming years, China could be less known for building roads and bridges in Africa and more for selling smartphones and providing VC for African startups.

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India bans e-cigarettes citing youth health concerns

Posted by | Asia, cdc, e-cigarette, e-cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, Gadgets, Health, india, Trump administration, United States, world health organization | No Comments

India’s government has announced an immediate ban on e-cigarettes — citing youth-focused public health concerns.

In a news statement following a cabinet meeting today, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the ban covers production, manufacturing, import, export, transport, sale, distribution, storage and advertising of e-cigarettes.

Sitharaman suggested India’s youth are viewing e-cigarettes as a “style statement,” implying it’s encouraging them to get hooked on nicotine — whereas she noted that companies behind the vaping trend have pitched their products as a way to ween existing smokers off cigarettes.

“This decision is taken keeping in mind the impact that [e-cigarettes are] having on the youth of today,” she said of the ban order. “The data that we have largely is derived from the U.S.’ experience and it the U.S. the latest stats that I have before me states that there has been a 77.8% growth among school students who are at the 10th and 12th level.”

She also pointed to “surprising” growth in e-cigarette use among U.S. middle school students — up 48.5%, per stats she cited. 

India has some 106 million adult smokers, making it a major market for cigarette companies of all stripes. But with the e-cigarette ban, vaping startups like Juul are set to be shut out entirely — even as traditional tobacco giants are allowed to continue to operate.

According to the World Health Organization, the use of tobacco in Indian, which includes both smoked and smokeless products, kills close to 1 million people per year.

The ban on e-cigarettes will need formal approval when India’s parliament returns this fall, though this step is typically considered a formality.

Penalties for breaching the ban order include up to one year in jail and a fine of 100,000 rupees ($1,405) for first-time offenders, per Reuters. Repeat violation risks up to three years and a penalty of up to 500,000 rupees. It’s not clear whether users of e-cigarettes will risk any penalties for the act of vaping itself.

India’s ban comes at a time when the U.S. is also preparing to tighten regulation in response to concerns around youth vaping. This month the Trump administration said it’s working on a compliance policy for flavored e-cigarettes that are especially appealing to children.

The U.S.’ CDC public health agency also recently warned against using e-cigarettes — as it investigates a lung condition associated with vaping, following hundreds of cases and a suspected death in August.

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Amazon’s Alexa now speaks Hindi

Posted by | amazon alexa, Apps, artificial intelligence, Asia, india, Mobile | No Comments

Only about 10% of India’s 1.3 billion people know English. Yet, that is the only language Amazon’s digital assistant Alexa, which was launched in India two years ago, understands in the nation. That is changing today.

At a press conference in New Delhi on Wednesday, the e-commerce giant said Alexa now supports Hindi, a language spoken by roughly half a billion people in India, as the company looks to expand its reach in the nation. Bringing support for Hindi to Alexa was in the works for more than a year, company executives said, noting the unique contextual, cultural and content-related challenges that Hindi implementation posed.

Users can now ask Alexa their questions in Hindi, and the digital assistant will be able to respond in the same language. The feature, which will begin rolling out through a software update to Alexa devices starting today, currently only supports one voice type for Hindi. (For English, Alexa offers multiple voice types.) In the months to come, Amazon said it plans to add support for multilingual households, which will enable members of the family to interact with Alexa in the language they each prefer.

Support for local languages has proven immensely beneficial to customers in the past, Manish Tiwari, head of devices category business for Amazon India, said at the event. Amazon last year introduced support for Hindi language on its apps and website. It has seen Hindi usage grow on the site and app by six times in recent months, he said.

Rohit Prasad, VP and head scientist of Alexa AI at Amazon, said the adoption of Alexa in India has been phenomenal, though he did not share any figures. Prior to today’s update, Alexa supported some Hinglish words, a combination of English and Hindi, but the company said it wanted to bring full-fledged support.

“A lot of how people in India engage with their smartphones and internet services is different from those in the United States. For instance, in India, people often search the name of an actor instead of the singer or the band when they are looking for a particular song,” he added. Alexa supports variants of about 15 languages, executives said.

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Amazon exec Prasad onstage at an event in New Delhi

Today’s announcement comes months after Amazon added a Hindi voice model to its Alexa Skills Kit, enabling developers to update their skills in India to support the more popular local language. More than 500 skills on the store already support Hindi, Prasad said today. Google smart speakers gained support for the Hindi language late last year.

Amazon says it offers Alexa customers in India more than 30,000 skills across various categories, including cricket, education and Bollywood. The company’s voice assistant is available to users through its smart speakers — Echo Dot, Echo Plus and more — and over three-dozen devices from other manufacturers, including Sony, iBall and LG, the company said.

Hindi should also help Amazon’s smart speakers maintain their lead over Google’s in India. Amazon commanded the local smart speakers market with a 59% market share in 2018, according to research firm IDC. (Google launched its smart speakers in India months after Amazon. IDC has not updated its findings since March this year.)

Indian language internet users are expected to account for nearly 75% of India’s internet user base by 2021, according to a report by KPMG and Google. By same year, nine out of every 10 new internet users in the country will likely be an Indian language speaker, the report said.

Both companies are locked in a global battle to win users through their digital voice assistants. And they should be: In many markets, including India, first-time internet users are increasingly showing that they are more comfortable engaging with their phones through voice instead of typing. Search through voice queries is growing by 270% year-over-year.

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InMobi’s Glance raises $45M to expand outside of India

Posted by | Apps, Asia, funding, india, InMobi, mithril capital, Mobile, Recent Funding, Samsung, Startups | No Comments

Glance, a subsidiary of Indian mobile ad business firm InMobi, said today it has raised $45 million as it prepares to scale its business outside of India and bulk up its product offerings.

The unnamed maiden financing round for Glance was funded by Mithril Capital, a growth-stage investment firm co-founded by Silicon Valley investors Peter Thiel and Ajay Royan.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Naveen Tewari, founder and CEO of InMobi Group, said the current round has not closed and could bag another $30 million to $55 million in the next two months.

Glance operates an eponymous service that shows media content in local languages on the lock screen of Android-powered smartphones. InMobi has partnered with a number of top smartphone vendors, including Xiaomi, Samsung and Gionee, to integrate Glance into their respective operating systems.

Glance, which was launched in September last year and supports English, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu, has amassed 50 million monthly active users in India, its primary market. Users are spending an average of 22 minutes with Glance each day, he said.

“All the new smartphone models launched by Samsung, Xiaomi and a handful of other vendors have launched with Glance on them,” Tewari said.

In a statement, Mithril Capital’s Royan said, “We share Glance’s global vision of breaking through the constraints of application architectures and linguistic markets to deliver rich, frictionless, and engaging experiences across a myriad of cultures and languages.” As part of the financing round, he is joining Glance’s board.

Glance does not show traditional ads, something it intends to never change, but shows a certain kind of content to drive engagement for brands.

In the months to come, Glance plans to expand the platform and bring short-form videos (Glance TV), and mini games (Glance Games) to the lock screen. It is also working on a feature dubbed Glance Nearby that will enable brands to court users in their vicinity, and Glance Shopping to explore ways to build commerce around content.

As of today, InMobi Group is not monetizing Glance platform, but plans to explore ways to make money from it early next year, Tewari said.

The 12-year-old firm said it plans to expand footprints of Glance outside of India. The company plans to take Glance to some Southeast Asian markets like Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. InMobi’s Tewari said Glance has already started to find users in these markets.

InMobi Group, which had raised $320 million prior to today’s financing round, has been profitable for several years, but the company decided to raise outside funding to accelerate Glance’s growth, Tewari said.

The firm, which has three subsidiaries, including its marquee marketing cloud division, plans to go public in the next few years. But instead of taking the entire group public, Tewari said the firm is thinking of publicly listing each division as they mature. The marketing cloud division, which brings in the vast majority of revenue for the firm, will go public first, he said.

“The IPO plans remain, and we will evaluate them as we go along. The reality, however, is that the market is so big and there is so much room that we can continue to be private for a few more years,” he said.

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Xiaomi has shipped 100 million smartphones in India

Posted by | Asia, hardware, idc, india, Mobile, mobile phones, Redmi, smartphones, Xiaomi | No Comments

Xiaomi said on Friday it has shipped more than 100 million smartphones in India, its most important market, since beginning operations in the nation five years ago. The company cited figures from research firm IDC in its claim.

The Chinese giant, which has held the top smartphone vendor position in India for eight straight quarters, said budget smartphone series Redmi and Redmi Note have been its top selling lineups in the nation.

In India, the world’s fastest growing and second largest smartphone market, most handsets ship with a price tag below $200. Xiaomi, whose phones punch above their price class, has strictly adhered to the budget-conscious market from the day it began operations in India. The company says it never makes more than 5% profit on any hardware product it sells.

In a statement, Manu Jain, VP of Xiaomi and MD of the company’s India business, said the company’s milestone today “is a testament to the love we have received from millions of Mi Fans since our inception. There have been brands who entered the market before us, yet are nowhere close to the astounding feat we have achieved.”

Shipping 100 million smartphones in India alone is a remarkable feat for Xiaomi, which operates in dozens of markets. The company last year shipped 100 million handsets in about 10 months worldwide  (India included) in what was a record for the company.

As competition in its home nation intensifies and smartphone shipments slow or decline everywhere, India has emerged as the most important market for Xiaomi in recent years. When the Chinese firm entered the nation, for the first two years, it relied mostly on selling handsets online to cut overhead. But in the years since, it has established presence in brick-and-mortar markets, which continues to drive much of the sales in the nation. (India is also one of the handful of places where smartphone shipments continue to grow.)

xiaomi india

Image: Manish Singh / TechCrunch

Last month, Xiaomi said the company was on track to building presence in 10,000 physical stores in the country by the end of the year. It expects offline market to drive half of its sales by that time frame. Xiaomi says it has created more than 20,000 jobs in India, the vast majority of which have been filled by women.

Even as smartphones continue to be its marquee business in India, Xiaomi has also brought a range of other hardware products to the nation and has built software services for the local market. The company has also donned the hat of an investor, backing a number of startups, including local social network ShareChat, which recently raised $100 million from Twitter and others, fintech startups KrazyBee and ZestMoney and entertainment app maker Hungama.

In recent interviews with TechCrunch, Xiaomi executives said they have a dedicated team in India that closely looks for investment opportunities in local startups.

“We believe this is just the beginning of a brand new chapter, and we will continue to bring in more categories and products with best specs, highest quality at honest pricing for all our Mi Fans,” Jain said today.

Samsung, which once led the Indian smartphone market, has launched a handful of handset models across various price points to better compete with Xiaomi. It has also ramped up its marketing budget in the nation. Xiaomi, which spends little on marketing, remains on top.

Samsung entered India more than a decade ago and has also shipped more than 100 million smartphones in the country, research firm Counterpoint told TechCrunch. Xiaomi is only the second smartphone vendor to achieve this feat, said Tarun Pathak, an analyst with the research firm.

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India’s mobile payments firm MobiKwik reaches rare key profit milestone

Posted by | Apps, Asia, Finance, Google, india, Mobikwik, Mobile, Online lending, payments, Upasana Taku | No Comments

Indian mobile payments firm MobiKwik has reached a milestone very few of its local rivals can even contemplate: not burning money. The 10-year-old Gurgaon-headquartered firm said Tuesday it is now generating a profit excluding interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.

“We have been in an ecosystem where we have seen a lot of high-growth and several regulatory changes in the payments domain. But what we realized was that payments alone is likely not going to be a very profitable business,” Bipin Singh, co-founder and CEO of MobiKwik, told TechCrunch in an interview.

To get to the path of profitability, MobiKwik has made a number of significant changes to its business in recent years. It stopped participating in the race to aggressively acquire users and fighting with heavily backed firms such as Paytm, which has raised more than $2 billion to date.

Paytm remains unprofitable and an analysis of its financial performance shows that this is not going to change anytime soon. Google, which also offers a payments service in India, has no shortage of cash, either. MobiKwik has raised about $118 million to date from Sequoia Capital, American Express and Cisco Investments, among others.

Upasana Taku, co-founder and COO of MobiKwik, said the company has taken inspiration from Kotak and ICICI banks, both of which have about 15 million to 20 million customers — a fraction of many digital payment apps — but are profitable. MobiKwik, which employs 400 people, has 110 million users, she said.

In the last two and a half years, MobiKwik has cut down on cashbacks it bandies out to users — a practice followed by every company offering a payments solution in India — and focused on building financial services on top of its wallet app to retain customers and find additional sources of revenue.

The company continues to focus on its mobile wallet and payments processing businesses that account for about 75% of its revenue, but its growing suite of financial services, such as providing credits and insurance to customers, is already bringing the rest of the revenue, she said.

That’s not surprising, as India remains alarmingly under served. Fewer than 50 million credit cards are in circulation in the nation currently, and for people with limited income, getting a loan of any size remains a major challenge.

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“Even the population that has access to smartphones and cheap internet data can’t get a credit card in India. We found it a good match for the growth of our payments app. We started serving these users who have the discipline to repay money and have certain kind of income,” the couple said, who are now also donning the role of angel investors.

MobiKwik works with banks and other lenders to finance loans between Rs 5,000 ($69) to Rs 100,000 ($1,380). In the 18 months since it started offering this, MobiKwik has provided 800,000 loans and disbursed $100 million.

In late 2018, the company launched “sachet-sized” insurance plans to provide protection from cyber fraud, fire, accident and hospitalization. These sachets start at as little as Rs 20 (28 cents) and thousands of users buy these everyday. Similarly, it also allows users to buy mutual funds for as little as $1.30.

MobiKwik expects its revenue to hit $69 million in the financial year that ends in March next year, up from $28 million a year earlier. The company, which expects to turn fully profitable by fiscal year 2021, plans to go public in four to five years, Taku said.

MobiKwik competes with a number of players, many of which are increasingly adding financial services, such as loans, to their platforms. Since these digital platforms are able to process loans without the need of salespeople and support staff, it becomes feasible for banks to chase customers with weak financial power.

India’s overall retail credit demand is expected to grow 60% to $771 billion over the next four years, according to the Digital Lenders Association of India.

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Xiaomi launches Mi A3 Android One smartphone with 48MP rear camera in India for $181

Posted by | Asia, Gadgets, hardware, india, smartphones, Xiaomi | No Comments

Google has found a committed Android One partner in Xiaomi . The Chinese electronics giant today launched in India the Mi A3 (its third Android One smartphone in recent years) as the company looks to expand its handset offering in its most important market.

The Mi A3 features mid to high-end hardware modules and follows Xiaomi’s tradition of punching above its price class. It sports a 6.088-inch HD+ (1560X720 pixels) AMOLED display, a trio of 48MP, 8MP and 2MP camera sensors on the back to capture detailed and sharp photos and a 32MP selfie shooter.

The Mi A3 comes in two variants: one bundles 4GB of RAM and 64GB storage. It is priced at Rs 12,999 ($181). The second variant, which features 6GB of RAM and 128GB storage, is priced at Rs 15,999 ($223). Both of them are powered by the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 processor.

A lot about Android One’s future is riding on the Mi A3, which was first unveiled by Xiaomi in Spain last month. Xiaomi said the Mi A1 and Mi A2 handsets that it launched in last two years remain the most popular Android One handsets.

For Android One, a program announced by Google in 2014, the Android maker works with phone vendors closely to ensure timely software updates and a clean and “stock” Android experience without the bells and whistles that carriers and phone companies pre-install on their devices.

Android One saw significant momentum in its early years when many top smartphone vendors, including LG, HTC and Motorola, launched several handsets under the program. But until recently, it appeared that Google’s initiative was losing its momentum.

xiaomi androidone

Xiaomi, which ships MIUI Android skin on its standard smartphones, has tried to not cut any corners to make up the cost, Manu Jain, the head of Xiaomi India and VP of Global operations, said at a media conference in New Delhi Wednesday.

(Xiaomi makes a significant amount of its revenue from its services and apps, all of which are not pre-installed on the Mi A3 handset.)

On the contrary, Jain said Xiaomi has added some of the familiar features to appease users. The Mi A3 handset houses a fairly large 4030mAh battery, a 3.5mm headphone jack and supports external microSD card should you need more storage — three things that are too often too much to ask for.

Xiaomi says it has also incorporated a fingerprint sensor into the display to allow users to quickly unlock the phone. (It also supports unlocking via facial recognition.) You can check the rest of the specs here. The Mi A3 will go on sale in India through Amazon India and Xiaomi’s own online store this Friday. It will hit the brick and mortar retail stores at a later stage.

For Xiaomi, which entered India in 2014, the world’s second largest internet and smartphone market has become its most important region. The company has been the top smartphone vendor in India for eight straight quarters.

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YC-backed Lokal wants to bring local news, classifieds to 900 million Indians in their regional languages

Posted by | Apps, Asia, funding, india, Lokal, Media, Mobile, Y Combinator | No Comments

Each month millions of Indians are coming online for the first time, making India the last great growth market for internet companies worldwide. But winning them presents its own challenges.

These users, most of whom live in small cities and villages in India, can’t speak English. Their interests and needs are different from those of their counterparts in large cities. When they come online, the world wide web that is predominantly focused on the English-speaking masses, suddenly seems tiny, Google executives acknowledged at a media conference last year. According to a KPMG-Google report (PDF) on Indian languages, there will be 536 million non-English speaking users using internet in India by 2021.

Many companies are increasingly adding support for more languages, and Silicon Valley giants such as Google are developing tools to populate the web with content in Indian languages.

But there is still room for others to participate. On Friday, a new startup announced it is also in the race. And it has already received the backing of Y Combinator (YC).

Lokal is a news app that wants to bring local news to hundreds of millions of users in India in their regional languages. The startup, which is currently available in the Telugu language, has already amassed more than two million users, Jani Pasha, co-founder of Lokal, told TechCrunch in an interview.

lokal homescreen

There are tens of thousands of publications in India and several news aggregators that showcase the top stories from the mainstream outlets. But very few today are focusing on local news and delivering it in a language that the masses can understand, Pasha said.

Lokal is building a network of stringers and freelance reporters who produce original reporting around the issues and current affairs of local towns and cities. The app is updated throughout the day with regional news and also includes an “information” stream that shows things like current price of vegetables, upcoming events and contact details for local doctors and police stations.

The platform has grown to cover 18 districts in South India and is slowly ramping up its operations to more corners of the country. The early signs show that people are increasingly finding Lokal useful. “In 11 of the 18 districts we cover, we already have a larger presence and reader base than other media houses,” Pasha said.

Before creating Lokal, Pasha and the other co-founder of the startup, Vipul Chaudhary, attempted to develop a news aggregator app. The app presented news events in a timeline, offering context around each development.

“We made the biggest mistake. We built the product for four to five months without ever consulting with the users. We quickly found that nobody was using it. We went back to the drawing board and started interviewing users to understand what they wanted. How they consumed news, and where they got their news from,” he said.

“One thing we learned was that most of these users in tier 2 and tier 3 India still heavily rely on newspapers. Newspapers still carry a lot of local news and they rely on stringers who produce these news pieces and source them to publications,” he added.

But newspapers have limited pages, and they are slow. So Pasha and the team tried to build a platform that addresses these two things.

Pasha tried to replicate it through distributing local news, sourced from stringers, on a WhatsApp group. “That one WhatsApp group quickly became one of many as more and more people kept joining us,” he recalls. And that led to the creation of Lokal.

Along the journey, the team found that classifieds, matrimonial ads and things like birthday wishes are still driving people to newspapers, so Lokal has brought those things to the platform.

Pasha said Lokal will expand to three more states in the coming months. It will also begin to experiment with monetization, though that is not the primary focus currently. “The plan is to eventually bring this to entire India,” he said.

A growing number of startups today are attempting to build solutions for what they call India 2 and India 3 — the users who don’t live in major cities, don’t speak English and are financially not as strong.

ShareChat, a social media platform that serves users in 15 regional languages — but not English — said recently it has raised $100 million in a round led by Twitter. The app serves more than 60 million users each month, a figure it wants to double in the next year.

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Xiaomi tops Indian smartphone market for eighth straight quarter

Posted by | Apple, Asia, Gadgets, hardware, india, Mobile, OnePlus, Samsung, Samsung Electronics, smartphones, vivo, Xiaomi | No Comments

Xiaomi has now been India’s top smartphone seller for eight straight quarters. The company has become a constant headache for Samsung in the world’s second largest smartphone market as sales have slowed pretty much everywhere else in the world.

The Chinese electronics giant shipped 10.4 million handsets in the quarter that ended in June, commanding 28.3% of the market, research firm IDC reported Tuesday. Its closest rival, Samsung — which once held the top spot in India — shipped 9.3 million handsets in the nation during the same period, settling for a 25.3% market share.

Overall, 36.9 million handsets were shipped in India during the second quarter of this year, up 9.9% from the same period last year, IDC reported. This was the highest volume of handsets ever shipped in India for Q2, the research firm said.

As smartphone shipments slow or decline in most of the world, India has emerged as an outlier that continues to show strong momentum as tens of millions of people purchase their first handset in the country each quarter.

Research firm Counterpoint told TechCrunch that there are about 450 million smartphone users in India, up from about 350 million late last year and 300 million in late 2017. This growth has made India, home to more than 1.3 billion people, the fastest growing market worldwide.

Globally, meanwhile, smartphone shipments declined by 2.3% year-over-year in Q2 2019, according to IDC.

Chinese phone makers Vivo and Oppo, both of which spent lavishly in marketing during the recent local favorite cricket season in India, also expanded their base in the country. Vivo had 15.1% of the local market share, up from 12.6% in Q2 2018, while Oppo’s share grew from 7.6% to 9.7% during the same period. The market share of Realme, which has gained following after it started to replicate some of Xiaomi’s early models, also shot up, moving from 1.2% in Q2 2018 to 7.7% in Q2 2019.

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Samsung showroom demonstrator seen showing the features of new S10 Smartphone during the launching ceremony (Photo by Avishek Das/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The key to gaining market share in India has remained unchanged over the years: better specs at lower prices. The average selling price of a handset during Q2 was $159 in the quarter that ended in June this year. Seventy-eight percent of the 36.9 million phones that shipped in India during this period sported a sticker price below $200, IDC said.

That’s not to say that phones priced above $200 don’t have a market in India. Per IDC, the fastest growing smartphone segment in the nation was priced between $200 to $300, witnessing a 105.2% growth over the same period last year.

Smartphones priced between $400 and $600 were the second-fastest growing segment in the country, with a 16.1% growth since the same period last year. Chinese phone maker OnePlus assumed 63.6% of this premium segment, followed by Apple (which has less than 2% of the overall local market share) and Samsung.

Feature phones that have maintained a crucial position in India’s handsets market continue to maintain their significant footprint, though their popularity is beginning to wane — 32.4 million feature phones shipped in India during Q2 this year, down 26.3% since the same period last year.

Xiaomi versus Samsung

India has become Xiaomi’s biggest market. It entered the country five years ago, and for the first two, relied mostly on selling handsets online to cut overhead. But the company has since established and expanded its presence in the brick and mortar market, which continues to account for much of the sales in the country.

Earlier this month, the Chinese phone maker said it had set up its 2,000th Mi Home store in India. It is on track to have a presence in 10,000 physical stores in the country by the end of the year, and expects to see half of its sales come from the offline market by that time frame.

Samsung has stepped up its game in India in the last two years, as well. The company, which opened the world’s largest phone factory in the country last year, has ramped up productions of its Galaxy A series of smartphones that are aimed at budget-conscious customers and conceptualized a similar series that includes Galaxy M10, M20 and M30 smartphone models for the Indian market. The Galaxy A series handsets drove much of the growth for the company, IDC said.

Even as it lags behind Xiaomi, Samsung shipped more handsets in Q2 2019 compared to Q2 2018 (9.3 million versus 8 million) and its market share grew from 23.9% to 25.3% during the same period.

“The vendor was also offering attractive channel schemes to clear the stocks of Galaxy J series. Galaxy M series (exclusive online till the end of 2Q19) saw price reductions, which helped retain the 13.5% market share in the online channel in 2Q19 for Samsung,” IDC said.

But the South Korean giant continues to have a tough time passing Xiaomi, which continues to maintain low profit margins (Xiaomi says it only makes 5% profit on any hardware it sells). Xiaomi has also expanded its local production efforts in India and created more than 10,000 jobs in the country, more than 90% of which have been filled by women.

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