india

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.

GettyImages 1128860832

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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India’s Reliance Jio inks deal with Microsoft to expand Office 365, Azure to more businesses; unveils broadband, blockchain and IoT platforms

Posted by | Apps, artificial intelligence, Asia, blockchain, broadband, Cloud, eCommerce, Enterprise, Entertainment, high speed internet, india, Microsoft, Mobile, Mumbai, Office 365, online stores, reliance, reliance jio, Satya Nadella, Social | No Comments

India’s Reliance Jio, which has disrupted the local telecom and features phone markets in less than three years of existence, is ready to foray into many more businesses.

In a series of announcements Monday, which included a long-term partnership with global giant Microsoft, Reliance Jio said it will commercially roll out its broadband service next month; an IoT platform with ambitions to power more than a billion devices on January 1 next year; and “one of the world’s biggest blockchain networks” in the next 12 months — all while also scaling its retail and commerce businesses.

The broadband service, called Jio Fiber, is aimed at individual customers, small and medium-sized businesses as well as enterprises, Mukesh Ambani, chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries and Asia’s richest man, said at a shareholders’ meeting today.

The service, which is being initially targeted at 20 million homes and 15 million businesses in 1,600 towns, will start rolling out commercially starting September 5. Ambani said more than half a million customers have already been testing the broadband service, which was first unveiled last year.

The broadband service will come bundled with access to hundreds of TV channels and free calls across India and at discounted rates to the U.S. and Canada, Ambani said. The service, the cheapest tier of which will offer internet speeds of 100Mbps, will be priced at Rs 700 (~$10) a month. The company said it will offer various plans to meet a variety of needs, including those of customers who want access to gigabit internet speeds.

Continuing its tradition to woo users with significant “free stuff,” Jio, which is a subsidiary of India’s largest industrial house (Reliance Industries) said customers who opt for the yearly plan of its fiber broadband will be provided with the set-top box and an HD or 4K TV at no extra charge. Specific details weren’t immediately available. A premium tier, which will be available starting next year, will allow customers to watch many movies on the day of their public release.

The broadband service will bundle games from many popular studios, including Microsoft Game Studios, Riot Games, Tencent Games and Gameloft, Jio said.

Partnership with Microsoft

The company also announced a 10-year partnership with Microsoft to launch new cloud data centers in India to ensure “more of Jio’s customers can access the tools and platforms they need to build their own digital capability,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in a video appearance Monday.

ambani nadella

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella talks about the company’s partnership with Reliance Jio

“At Microsoft, our mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. Core to this mission is deep partnerships, like the one we are announcing today with Reliance Jio. Our ambition is to help millions of organizations across India thrive and grow in the era of rapid technological change.”

“Together, we will offer a comprehensive technology solution, from compute to storage, to connectivity and productivity for small and medium-sized businesses everywhere in the country,” he added.

As part of the partnership, Nadella said, Jio and Microsoft will jointly offer Azure, Microsoft 365 and Microsoft AI platforms to more organizations in India, and also bring Azure Cognitive Services to more devices and in 13 Indian languages to businesses in the country. The solutions will be “accessible” to reach as many people and organizations in India as possible, he added. The cloud services will be offered to businesses for as little as Rs 1,500 ($21) per month.

The first two data centers will be set up in Gujarat and Maharashtra by next year. Jio will migrate all of its non-networking apps to the Microsoft Azure platform and promote its adoption among its ecosystem of startups, the two said in a joint statement.

The foray into broadband business and push to court small enterprises come as Reliance Industries, which dominates the telecom and retail spaces in India, attempts to diversify from its marquee oil and gas business. Reliance Jio, the nation’s top telecom operator, has amassed more than 340 million subscribers in less than three years of its commercial operations.

At the meeting, Ambani also unveiled that Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil producer Aramco was buying a 20% stake in $75 billion worth Reliance Industries’ oil-to-chemicals business.

Like other Silicon Valley companies, Microsoft sees massive potential in India, where tens of millions of users and businesses have come online for the first time in recent years. Cloud services in India are estimated to generate a revenue of $2.4 billion this year, up about 25% from last year, according to research firm Gartner. Microsoft has won several major clients in India in recent years, including insurance giant ICICI Lombard.

Today’s partnership could significantly boost Microsoft’s footprint in India, posing a bigger headache for Amazon and Google.

Ambani also said Reliance Retail, the nation’s largest retailer, is working on a “digital stack” to create a new commerce partnership platform in India to reach tens of millions of merchants, consumers and producers. Ambani said Reliance Industries plans to list both Reliance Retail and Jio publicly in the next years.

“We have received strong interests from strategic and financial investors in our consumer businesses — Jio and Reliance Retail. We will induct leading global partners in these businesses in the next few quarters and move towards listing of both these companies within the next five years,” he said.

The announcement comes weeks after Reliance Industries acquired for $42.3 million a majority stake in Fynd, a Mumbai-based startup that connects brick and mortar retailers with online stores and consumers. Reliance Industries has previously stated plans to launch a new e-commerce firm in the country.

Without revealing specific details, Ambani also said that Jio is building an IoT platform to control at least one billion of the two billion IoT devices in India by next year. He said he sees IoT as a $2.8 billion revenue opportunity for Jio. Similarly, the company also plans to expand its blockchain network across India, he said.

“Using blockchain, we can deliver unprecedented security, trust, automation and efficiency to almost any type of transaction. And using blockchain, we also have an opportunity to invent a brand-new model for data privacy where Indian data, especially customer data is owned and controlled through technology by the Indian people an d not by corporate, especially global corporations,” he added.

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Japan’s mobile payments app PayPay reaches 10 million users

Posted by | Apps, Asia, e-commerce, Finance, india, Japan, Mobile, mobile payment, payments, Paytm, Softbank, SoftBank Group, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, yahoo japan | No Comments

Paytm, India’s biggest mobile payments firm, now has 10 million customers in Japan, the company said as it pushes to expand its reach in international markets. Paytm entered Japan last October after forming a joint venture with SoftBank and Yahoo Japan called PayPay.

In addition to 10 million users, PayPay is now supported by 1 million merchant partners and local stores in Japan, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder and CEO of Paytm said Thursday. The mobile payments app has clocked more than 100 million transactions to date in the nation, he claimed. In June, PayPay had 8 million users.

“Thank you India 🇮🇳 for your inspiration and giving us chance to build world class tech…,” he posted in a tweet.

Like in India, cash also dominates much of the daily transactions in Japan. Large medical clinics and supermarkets often refuse to accept plastic cards and instead ask for cash. This encouraged Paytm, which also has presence in Canada, to explore the Japanese market.

And it has the experience, capital and tech chops to achieve it. The mobile payments app has amassed more than 250 million registered users in India. Most of these customers signed up after the Indian government invalidated much of the cash in the nation in late 2016.

PayPay competes with a handful of local players in Japan. Its biggest competition is Line, an instant messaging app that has followed China’s WeChat model to aggressively expand its offerings in recent years.

Like PayPay, Line also has no shortage of money. Earlier this year, it announced a ¥30 billion ($282 million) reward campaign to boost usage of its payments service. Line has more than 80 million users in Japan, 32 million of whom used its payments service as of February this year. There are about 120 million internet users in Japan.

PayPay maintains a ¥10 billion ($94 million) marketing campaign of its own, as part of which customers who make a certain number of transactions and participate in referral programs earn some money. In a statement, PayPay said Thursday that moving forward it “will strive to create a society where people can buy anything through cashless payments in every corner of the country with a safe and secured service for our users.”

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Africa’s top mobile phone seller Transsion to list in Chinese IPO

Posted by | africa, Beijing, chairman, China, Companies, e-commerce, Egypt, ethiopia, huawei, india, initial public offering, kenya, Mobile, mobile phone, Nigeria, Opera, Samsung, secretary, shanghai, Shanghai Stock Exchange, shenzhen, smartphone, smartphones, South Africa, spokesperson, Startup company, Tanzania, TC, technology, telecommunications, Transsion | No Comments

Chinese mobile-phone and device maker Transsion will list in an IPO on Shanghai’s STAR Market,  Transsion confirmed to TechCrunch. 

The company—which has a robust Africa sales network—could raise up to 3 billion yuan (or $426 million).

“The company’s listing-related work is running smoothly. The registration application and issuance process is still underway, with the specific timetable yet to be confirmed by the CSRC and Shanghai Stock Exchange,” a spokesperson for Transsion’s Office of the Secretary to the Chairman told TechCrunch via email.

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

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

Headquartered in Shenzhen—where African e-commerce unicorn Jumia also has a logistics supply-chain facility—Transsion is a top-seller of smartphones in Africa under its Tecno brand.

The company has a manufacturing facility in Ethiopia and recently expanded its presence in India.

Transsion plans to spend the bulk of its STAR Market raise (1.6 billion yuan or $227 million) 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. 

Transsion recently announced a larger commitment to capturing market share in India, including building an industrial park in the country 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 the STAR Market will put Transsion on the freshly minted exchange seen as an extension of Beijing’s ambition to become a hub for high-potential tech startups to raise public capital. Chinese regulators lowered profitability requirements, for the exchange, which means pre-profit ventures can list.

Transsion’s IPO process 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 from 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 recent research trip to Addis Ababa, TechCrunch learned the top entry-level Tecno smartphone was the W3, which lists for 3600 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 percent, but expected to grow to 67 percent 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 if the Shenzhen company moves strongly toward venture investing.

Comparatively, 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 move is the second recent event—after Chinese owned Opera’s big 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, bridges, and buildings in Africa and more for selling smartphones and providing VC for African startups.

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WhatsApp reaches 400 million users in India, its biggest market

Posted by | Apps, Asia, Google, india, Media, Mobile, Paytm, WhatsApp, Will Cathcart | No Comments

WhatsApp has amassed more than 400 million users in India, the instant messaging app confirmed today, reaffirming its gigantic reach in its biggest market.

Amitabh Kant, CEO of highly influential local think-tank NITI Aayog, revealed the new stat at a press conference held by WhatsApp in New Delhi on Thursday. A WhatsApp spokesperson confirmed that the platform indeed had more than 400 million monthly active users in the country.

The remarkable revelation comes more than two years after WhatsApp said it had hit 200 million users in India. WhatsApp — or Facebook — did not share any India-specific users count in the period in between.

The public disclosure today should help Facebook reaffirm its dominance in India, where it appears to be used by nearly every smartphone user. According to research firm Counterpoint, India has about 450 million smartphone users. (Some other research firms peg the number to be lower.)

It’s worth pointing out that WhatsApp also supports KaiOS — a mobile operating system for feature phones. Millions of KaiOS-powered JioPhone handsets have shipped in India. Additionally, there are about 500 million internet users, according to several industry estimates.

As WhatsApp becomes ubiquitous in the nation, the service is increasingly mutating to serve additional needs. Businesses such as social-commerce app Meesho have been built on top of WhatsApp. Facebook backed Meesho recently in what was its first investment of this kind in an Indian startup. Then, of course, WhatsApp has also come under hot water for its role in the spread of false information in the nation.

As ByteDance and others aggressively expand their businesses in India, Facebook’s perceived dominance in the country has come under attack in recent months. ByteDance’s TikTok, which has amassed 120 million users in India, has been heralded by many as the top competitor of Facebook.

A WhatsApp spokesperson also told TechCrunch that India remains WhatsApp’s biggest market. In 2017, Facebook said its marquee service had about 250 million users in India — a figure it has not updated in the years since.

WhatsApp, which has about 1.5 billion monthly active users worldwide, does not really have any major competitor in India. The closest to a competitor it has in the country is Messenger, another platform owned by Facebook, and Hike, which millions of users check everyday. Times Internet — an internet conglomerate in India that runs several news outlets, entertainment services and more — claims to reach 450 million users in the country each month.

At the aforementioned press conference, WhatsApp global chief Will Cathcart said WhatsApp also plans to roll out WhatsApp Pay, its payment service, to all its users toward the end of the year — something TechCrunch reported earlier.

Its arrival in India’s burgeoning payments space could create serious tension for Google Pay, Flipkart’s PhonePe and Paytm. For Facebook, WhatsApp Pay’s success is even more crucial as the company currently has no plans to bring cryptocurrency wallet Calibra to the country, it told TechCrunch on the sidelines of the Libra and Calibra unveil.

In a series of announcements this week, WhatsApp also unveiled a tie-up with NITI Aayog to promote women’s entrepreneurship. “By launching ‘gateway to a billion opportunities’ and our digital skills training program, we hope to shine a light on the amazing work already happening and build the next generation of entrepreneurs and change makers,” said Cathcart.

At a conference in Mumbai on Wednesday, Cathcart announced a partnership with the Indian School of Public Policy — India’s first program in the theory and practice of public policy, product design and management — to bring a series of privacy design workshops to future policy makers. These workshops will explore “the importance and practice of privacy-centric design to help technology make a positive impact on society,” the Facebook-owned platform said.

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Netflix will roll out a lower-priced subscription plan in India

Posted by | Amazon, Apps, Asia, Disney, Entertainment, Hotstar, india, Media, Mobile, Netflix, prime video, Spotify | No Comments

Netflix said on Wednesday that it will roll out a cheaper subscription plan in India, one of the last great growth markets for global companies, as the streaming giant scrambles to find ways to accelerate its slowing growth worldwide.

The company added 2.7 million new subscribers in the quarter that ended in June this year, it said today, far fewer than the 5 million figure it had forecasted earlier this year.

The company said lowering its subscription plan, which starts at $9 in the U.S., would help it reach more users in India and expand its overall subscriber base. The new plan will be available in India in Q3. According to third-party research firms, Netflix has fewer than 2 million subscribers in India.

Netflix started to test a lower-priced subscription plan in India and some other markets in Asia late last year. The plan restricts the usage of the service to one mobile device and offers only the standard definition viewing (~480p). During the period of testing, which was active as of two months ago, the company charged users as low as $4.

The company did not specify the exact amount it intends to charge users for the cheaper mobile-only plan. During the testing period, Netflix also provided some users the option to get a subscription that would only last for a week. The company also did not say if it intended to bring the cheaper plan to other markets. TechCrunch has reached out to Netflix for more details. (Update: Netflix declined to elaborate at this point.)

“After several months of testing, we’ve decided to roll out a lower-priced mobile-screen plan in India to complement our existing plans. We believe this plan, which will launch in Q3, will be an effective way to introduce a larger number of people in India to Netflix and to further expand our business in a market where Pay TV ARPU is low (below $5),” the company said in its quarterly earnings report.

The India challenge

Selling an entertainment service in India, the per capita GDP of which is under $2,000, is extremely challenging. The vast majority of companies that have performed exceedingly well in the nation offer their products and services at a very low price.

Just look at Spotify, which entered India earlier this year and for the first time decided to offer full access to its service at no cost to local users. Even its premium option that features playback in higher quality costs Rs 119 ($1.6) per month.

That’s not to say that winning in India, home to more than 1.3 billion people, can’t be rewarding. Disney-owned streaming service Hotstar, which offers 80% of its content catalog at no cost, has amassed more than 300 million monthly active users. There are about 500 million internet users in India, according to industry reports.

In fact, Hotstar set a global record for most simultaneous views to a live event — about 25.3 million users — during the recently concluded ICC cricket world cup. It broke its own previous records. Hotstar’s free offering comes bundled with ads, while its ad-free premium option costs Rs 999 ($14.5) for year-long access.

Amazon, another global rival of Netflix, bundles its Prime Video streaming service in its Prime membership, which includes access to faster delivery of packages and its music service, for Rs 999 a year.

For Netflix, the decision to lower its pricing in India comes at a time when it has hiked the subscription cost in many parts of the world in recent quarters. In the U.S., for instance, Netflix said earlier this year that it would raise its subscription price by up to 18%.

During a visit to India early last year, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said the country could eventually emerge as the place that would bring the next 100 million users to his platform. “The Indian entertainment business will be much larger over the next 20 years because of investment in pay services like Netflix and others,” he said.

So far, Netflix has largely tried to lure customers through its original series. (Many popular U.S. shows such as NBC’s “The Office” that are available on Netflix’s U.S. catalog are not offered in its India palate.) The company, which has produced more than a dozen original shows and movies for India, this week unveiled five more that are in the pipeline.

“We are seeing nice, steady increases in engagement in India. Growth in that country is a marathon and we are in it for the long haul,” Ted Sarandos, chief content officer at Netflix, said during an earnings call today.

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Google Maps now shows users discounts from nearby restaurants in India

Posted by | Android, Apps, Asia, Google, Google-Maps, india | No Comments

Google said today that it has started to display discounts from restaurants in its Maps app in India as the Mountain View giant works to expand its ever-growing reach and relevance in one of its key overseas markets.

The company today rolled out an update to add three new features to the Google Maps app in India. Users can now see a new “offers” option in the “explore tab” that will display promotional offers from local restaurants. Google said it has partnered with EazyDiner, a table reservation platform, to display offers from more than 4,000 restaurants. The feature is live in 11 metro cities in India.

Restaurant offers are just the beginning, as the company plans to ink deals with more partners and expand to more categories in the future, it said. Users can also book a table to a restaurant directly from the Maps app. Google did not reveal the financial agreement it had with EazyDiner, a five-year-old New Delhi-based startup that has raised more than $13 million to date.

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The new offering comes as Google explores ways to make more money off Google Maps. The company maintains a Google Maps Platform for enterprise customers, and has increased its access price over the years, but it has yet to monetize the consumer-facing part of the service in a significant way.

As part of today’s announcement, the company has also revamped the “explore tab” in India to “reflect the rich diversity of local neighborhoods and communities,” said Krish Vitaldevara and Chandu Thota, directors of Google Maps, in a blog post. As part of the fresh paint job, Google said it has added shortcuts to give users quick navigation to restaurants, ATMs, shopping, hotels, pharmacies and, of course, offers.

Additionally, there is also an option in the explore tab to get directions to top areas in each city. The company said it uses machine learning to identify these areas. “Besides your own city, you can also look up other Indian cities by just searching the city name — an easy way to get up to speed before you travel,” Vitaldevara and Thota wrote.

The third feature, dubbed “For You,” displays personalized recommendations for new restaurants and other trending places. Users in India can now also follow a business and get updates and news on events.

“This feature also uses the ‘Your Match’ score, which uses machine learning to combine what we know about millions of places with the information you’ve added — restaurants you’ve rated, cuisines you’ve liked, and places you have visited. The first time you use this feature you can select the areas/localities you are interested in, and get more personalized and relevant recommendations over time,” the executives wrote.

Google continues to bulk up its Maps offerings in India. In recent months, it has added the ability to check if a cab goes off the usual route, and look for real-time status of trains and buses, among other features.

The company, which has amassed more than 300 million users in India, continues to use the nation as a testbed for many of its services. This approach has helped Google, which operates the Android mobile operating system that runs on 98% of smartphones in India, gain wide adoption in the country.

But it has also instilled an antitrust probe on its influence in the nation.

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Samsung backs Indus OS, three other startups in first investments for its VC arm in India

Posted by | Android, Apps, Asia, Facebook, funding, india, indus os, kaios, M12, reliance jio, Samsung Ventures, Venture Capital | No Comments

Samsung Venture, the investment arm of the South Korean technology giant, has invested $8.5 million in Indus OS and three other Indian startups as the company’s VC fund begins its journey in the country.

Indus OS is a popular Android fork that has built a suite of localized applications focused on serving the masses in India. Samsung and Venturest funded the four-year-old startup’s $5.75 million Series B round.

Several smartphone vendors, including homegrown firms such as Micromax, Gioness, Intex and Karbonn, are customers of Indus OS, integrating many of its features into their handsets. Earlier this year, Samsung partnered with Indus OS to revamp its Galaxy App Store.

Rakesh Deshmukh, co-founder and CEO of Indus OS, told TechCrunch in an interview that the startup will use the fresh capital to develop more local solutions and build a software development kit for developers that will enable them to make tweaks to their existing apps and add India-specific features.

Deshmukh said Indus OS, which makes money from monetizing ads, would soon partner with more smartphone vendors to expand its reach in the country. This is crucial to the startup as Indian smartphone vendors, which once controlled the local smartphone market, have lost the smartphone war to Chinese vendors that now control two-thirds of the space, and Samsung.

The other challenge is of course the rise of KaiOS, which has gained popularity in recent years after striking a deal with Indian telecom operator Reliance Jio. Tens of millions of JioPhone feature handsets today run KaiOS, giving many people fewer reasons to upgrade to a smartphone.

Deshmukh said he does not see KaiOS as a competitor. “It serves as a bridge. It is convincing many people to get online and try a multimedia phone for the first time. They will eventually upgrade to a better experience,” he said.

Indian newspaper Economic Times reported earlier today that Samsung now owns about 20% stakes of Indus OS. Representatives of the startup, which raised $10 million in three tranches of Series A three years ago, refuted the claim. Deshmukh said the company plans to raise more money in the coming future.

Other than Indus OS, Samsung Venture has invested in Gnani.ai, a startup that focuses on speech technology, and IoT solutions provider Silvan Innovation Labs. The venture arm said it also has invested in an early-stage startup that focuses on computer vision, but declined to name it.

Samsung Venture, which has more than $2.2 billion in assets under management, said it continues to track and actively invest in future-oriented businesses that are built on new technologies. Notably, Xiaomi, which surpassed Samsung to become India’s top smartphone vendor two years ago, also has invested in about half a dozen startups in India.

India’s tech startups have raised more than $20 billion in the last two years. The country’s burgeoning ecosystem is increasingly attracting major VC firms in the nation. SoftBank and Tiger Global, two large global VC funds, count India as one of their biggest markets.

In recent years, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook have also begun to infuse money in India’s startup space. Google has invested in delivery startup Dunzo, while Amazon has taken stake in more than half a dozen local companies, including Shuttl. Facebook invested in social commerce app Meesho last month.

Earlier this year, Microsoft expanded its M12 corporate venture fund (formerly known as Microsoft Ventures) to India with an investment in Innovaccer, a six-year-old SaaS startup.

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