Vivo beats Samsung for 2nd spot in Indian smartphone market

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.

Wikipedia now has more than 6 million articles in English

Wikipedia has surpassed a notable milestone today: The English version of the world’s largest online encyclopedia now has more than six million articles.

The feat, which comes roughly 19 years after the website was founded, is a testament of “what humans can do together,” said Ryan Merkley, chief of staff at Wikimedia, the nonprofit organization that operates the omnipresent online encyclopedia.

The 6 millionth article is about Maria Elise Turner Lauder, a 19th-century Canadian school teacher, travel writer and fiction writer. The article was written by Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight, a longtime editor of Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is available in dozens of languages, but its English-language version has the most number of articles. Following the English edition, which hit 5 million articles in late 2015, are the German version, with about 2.3 million articles, and the French version, which has about 2.1 million articles.

The English edition is also the most visited project on the website. According to publicly disclosed figures, the English version of the website averages about 255 million pageviews a day. According to web analytics firm SimilarWeb, Wikipedia overall is the eighth most visited website.

Over the years, Wikipedia has conducted seminars in many nations to encourage more people to become contributors in their own local languages, and has also improved its tools to make it easier for them to write, publish and cite items.

When Jimmy Wales founded Wikipedia, he said his goal was to provide “free access to the sum of all human knowledge.” According to one estimate, the sum of human knowledge would require 104 million articles — and we will need 20 more years to get there.

Indian bike rental startup Bounce raises $105M

Bounce, a Bangalore-based startup that operates over 20,000 electric and gasoline dockless bikes and scooters in nearly three dozen cities in India, said today it has raised $105 million in a new funding round as it explores sustainable ways to expand within the nation and build its own electric vehicles.

The new financing round, Series D, was co-led by existing investors Eduardo Saverin’s B Capital and Accel Partners, said the startup. The new round valued Bounce at a little over $500 million, up from about $200 million in June last year, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

TechCrunch reported in late November that Bounce was in advanced stages of talks to raise $150 million at over $500 million valuation. The new round pushes the startup’s total raise to $194 million.

Bounce, formerly known as Metro Bikes, allows customers to rent a scooter and pay as low as 1 Indian rupee (0.15 cents) for the first kilometer of the ride. The startup, which clocks 120,000 rides each day, allows users to leave the vehicle in any nearby docking station or partnered mom-and-pop store after the ride.

Bounce earlier deployed its own operations team in each city and flooded the market with its scooters, but in recent weeks it has started to explore a new strategy, said co-founder and chief executive Vivekananda Hallekere in an interview with TechCrunch.

“We realized that it was not the most efficient move to expand Bounce’s network on our own,” he said. The startup now works with mom-and-pop stores and local merchants in each city and they run their own operations.

Millions of mom-and-pop stores dot cities, towns and villages in India. In recent years, scores of startups and companies have started to work with them to address the last mile challenge. Amazon said earlier this month that it has partnered with over 20,000 mom-and-pop stores in the nation to use them to store and deliver packages.

To date, Bounce has replicated this model in six cities in India (including Vijayawada and Mangalore) and has partnered with over 250,000 shops and merchants. “We launch in the cities with our own vehicles, but overtime, these micro-entrepreneurs deploy their own bikes and scooters. They are still using our app, and are part of the Bounce platform, but they don’t have to be locked into our scooter ecosystem,” he explained.

The shift in strategy comes as Bounce looks to cut expenses and find a sustainable way to expand. “Otherwise, I would need a billion dollar of debt to launch a million vehicles in India,” he said. “We wanted a model that is scalable and profitable, and helps us create the most impact.”

Bounce is part of a small group of startups that is attempting to address a market that cab-hailing services Uber and Ola have been unable to tackle. The startup competes with Vogo, which is backed by Ola, and Yulu, which maintains a partnership with Uber.

Riding these bikes is more affordable than hailing a cab, and also two wheels are much faster in crowded traffic of urban cities than four. These bikes have also proven useful in other ways. Hallekere said female passengers access more than 30% of rides on Bounce — a figure that beats the industry estimates, because women feel much more safer with bikes, he said. “They don’t have to worry about how they would commute back from work,” he said.

Bounce is also working on building its own ecosystem of electric vehicles. The startup said it has already built a scooter with metal chassis that can survive for at least 200,000 kilometers. The idea is to build electric scooters that work best for shared mobility, something Hallekere said the ecosystem is currently missing.

“In our tests, we found that even if you threw this bike from the first floor of a building, nothing happens to it. It is also more tech-enabled, so it can tell when the second seat of the bike is in use and can bill users accordingly, for instance,” he explained. The startup plans to deploy these vehicles in the coming months.

Kabir Narang, a partner at B Capital, told TechCrunch in an interview that he sees great potential in the shared mobility future in India, and Bounce team’s passion and commitment to solving these challenges made it easy for them to place their “long-term” bet on the startup.

India likely to force Facebook, WhatsApp to identify the originator of messages

New Delhi is inching closer to recommending regulations that would require social media companies and instant messaging app providers operating in the nation to help law enforcement agencies identify users who have posted content — or sent messages — it deems questionable, two people familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

India will submit the suggested change to the local intermediary liability rules to the nation’s apex court later this month. The suggested change, the conditions of which may be altered before it is finalized, currently says that law enforcement agencies will have to produce a court order before exercising such requests, sources who have been briefed on the matter said.

But regardless, asking companies to comply with such a requirement would be “devastating” for international social media companies, a New Delhi-based policy advocate told TechCrunch on the condition of anonymity.

WhatsApp executives have insisted in the past that they would have to compromise end-to-end encryption of every user to meet such a demand — a move they are willing to fight over.

The government did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday evening. Sources spoke under the condition of anonymity as they are not authorized to speak to media.

Scores of companies and security experts have urged New Delhi in recent months to be transparent about the changes it planned to make to the local intermediary liability guidelines.

The Indian government proposed (PDF) a series of changes to its intermediary liability rules in late December 2018 that, if enforced, would require to make significant changes millions of services operated by anyone, from small and medium businesses to large corporate giants such as Facebook and Google.

Among the proposed rules, the government said that intermediaries — which it defines as those services that facilitate communication between two or more users and have five million or more users in India — will have to, among other things, be able to trace the originator of questionable content to avoid assuming full liability for their users’ actions.

At the heart of the changes lies the “safe harbor” laws that technology companies have so far enjoyed in many nations. The laws, currently applicable in the U.S. under the Communications Decency Act and India under its 2000 Information Technology Act, say that tech platforms won’t be held liable for the things their users share on the platform.

Many stakeholders have said in recent months that the Indian government was keeping them in the dark by not sharing the changes it was making to the intermediary liability guidelines.

Nobody outside of a small government circle has seen the proposed changes since January of last year, said Shashi Tharoor, one of India’s suavest and most influential opposition politicians, in a recent interview with TechCrunch.

Software Freedom and Law Centre, a New Delhi-based digital advocacy organization, recommended last week that the government should consider removing the traceability requirement from the proposed changes to the law as it was “technically impossible to satisfy for many online intermediaries.”

“No country is demanding such a broad level of traceability as envisaged by the Draft Intermediaries Guidelines,” it added.

TechCrunch could not ascertain other changes the government is recommending.

Uber sells food delivery business in India to Zomato

Uber said on Tuesday it has sold its food delivery business, Uber Eats, in India to local rival Zomato as the American ride-hailing giant races to shed lossmaking operations to become profitable by next year.

As part of the deal, Uber would own 9.99% of Zomato and its Eats users would become part of the Indian company, the two loss-making firms said. The deal valued Uber Eats’ India business between $300 million and $350 million, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

TechCrunch reported last month that the two were in advanced stages of talks for a deal. Indian newspaper Times of India first signaled about the two companies’ talks in November.

Satish Meena, an analyst at Forrester, told TechCrunch that despite the Uber deal, Zomato still lags Prosus Ventures -backed Swiggy, which services more number of orders each day.

“Our Uber Eats team in India has achieved an incredible amount over the last two years, and I couldn’t be prouder of their ingenuity and dedication,” said Dara Khosrowshahi, chief executive of Uber, in a statement. Uber Eats, which entered India in 2017, initiated conversations to sell the local business in late 2018, said people familiar with the matter.

“India remains an exceptionally important market to Uber and we will continue to invest in growing our local Rides business, which is already the clear category leader. We have been very impressed by Zomato’s ability to grow rapidly in a capital-efficient manner and we wish them continued success,” he added.

According to industry estimates, Uber is not the “clear category leader” in India. That title belongs to Ola, which processes twice as many rides as Uber in India and has presence in 110 cities, compared to Uber’s roughly three-dozen.

The announcement comes amidst of Zomato’s new financing round. The 11-year-old Indian firm last month raised $150 million from Ant Financial and is looking to secure another $400 million in the next few weeks.

More to follow…

Google takes on AWS and Azure in India with Airtel cloud deal

Google has inked a deal with India’s third-largest telecom operator as the American giant looks to grow its cloud customer base in the key overseas market that is increasingly emerging as a new cloud battleground for AWS and Microsoft .

Google Cloud announced on Monday that the new partnership, effective starting today, enables Airtel to offer G Suite to small and medium-sized businesses as part of the telco’s ICT portfolio.

Airtel, which has amassed over 325 million subscribers in India, said it currently serves 2,500 large businesses and over 500,000 small and medium-sized businesses and startups in the country. The companies did not share details of their financial arrangement.

In a statement, Thomas Kurian, chief executive of Google Cloud, said, “the combination of G Suite’s collaboration and productivity tools with Airtel’s digital business offerings will help accelerate digital innovations for thousands of Indian businesses.”

The move follows Reliance Jio, India’s largest telecom operator, striking a similar deal with Microsoft to sell cloud services to small businesses. The two announced a 10-year partnership in August last year to “serve millions of customers.”

AWS, which leads the cloud market, interestingly does not maintain any similar deals with a telecom operator — though it did in the past. Deals with carriers, which were very common a decade ago as tech giants looked to acquire new users in India, illustrates the phase of the cloud adoption in the nation.

Nearly half a billion people in India came online last decade. And slowly, small businesses and merchants are also beginning to use digital tools, storage services, and accept online payments. According to a report by lobby group Nasscom, India’s cloud market is estimated to be worth more than $7 billion in three years.

Like in many other markets, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google are locked in an intense battle to win cloud customers in India. All of them offer near identical features and are often willing to pay out a potential client’s remainder credit to the rival to convince them to switch, industry executives have told TechCrunch.

The three companies have also launched a range of tools and conducted training in India in recent years to help mom-and-pop stores easily build presence on the web. Last week, Amazon said it was investing $1 billion into its India operations to help about 10 million merchants come online.

Samsung invests $500M to set up a smartphone display plant in India

Samsung, which once led India’s smartphone market, is investing $500 million in its India operations to set up a manufacturing plant at the outskirts of New Delhi to produce displays.

The company disclosed the investment and its plan in a filing to the local regulator earlier this month. The South Korean giant said the plant would produce displays for smartphones as well as a wide-range of other electronics devices.

In the filing, the company disclosed that it has allocated some land area from its existing factory in Noida for the new plant.

In 2018, Samsung opened a factory in Noida that it claimed was the world’s largest mobile manufacturing plant. For that factory, the company had committed to spend about $700 million.

The new plant should help Samsung further increase its capacity to produce smartphone components locally and access a range of tax benefits that New Delhi offers.

Those benefits would come in handy to the company as it faces off Xiaomi, the Chinese smartphone vendor that put an end to Samsung’s lead in India.

Samsung is now the second largest smartphone player in India, which is the world’s second largest market with nearly 500 million smartphone users. The company in recent months has also lost market share to Chinese brand Realme, which is poised to take over the South Korean giant in the quarter that ended in December last year, according to some analysts.

TechCrunch has reached out to Samsung for comment.

Amazon partners with thousands of mom-and-pop stores in India

Neighborhood stores dot tens of thousands of cities, towns and villages in India. They have survived — and thrived, despite — retail giants’ billions of investment in sharpening their algorithms prowess and intense focus on consumer delights. So now, Amazon is beginning to embrace them.

Amazon said on Saturday it has partnered with thousands of neighborhood stores — locally known as kirana stores — across India to use them as delivery points for goods.

The company said it’s a win-win scenario for all stakeholders. “It’s good for customers, and it helps the shop owners earn additional income,” tweeted Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos .

Bezos’ announcement today, as he concludes his fourth India trip, underscores just how vital neighborhood stores remain for shoppers in the country despite the world’s largest e-commerce giant’s major push into the country and an emergence of heavily backed ecosystem of shopping startups.

These mom-and-pop stores offer all kinds of items, pay low wages and little to no rent. Since they are ubiquitous (there are more than 10 million neighborhood stores in India, according to industry estimates), no retail giant can offer a faster delivery. And on top of that, their economics is often better than most. E-commerce is still at an early stage in India, accounting for just 3% of total retail sales, according to industry estimates.

Walmart -owned Flipkart has also arrived at the same conclusion. Last month, it invested $30 million in four-year-old Bangalore-based startup ShadowFax, which works with neighborhood stores in 300 cities to use their real estate to store inventory, and utilize their large network of freelancers for the delivery.

Any alliance with neighborhood stores would come in handy to Amazon India and Flipkart as a new contender readies its e-commerce play. India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani late last month started signing up customers for a soft launch of JioMart in suburban Mumbai.

JioMart is a joint venture between Ambani’s Reliance Jio, which reshaped the country’s telecom market with ultra-cheap mobile data, and his Reliance Retail, the nation’s largest retail chain with over 10,000 outlets in 6,500 Indian cities and towns.

The new venture is courting shopkeepers in many parts of India to use a handheld Jio terminal to help them better manage their inventory and order new stock from Reliance’s network of wholesalers. (Amazon, on its part, is slowly deepening its partnership with Future Retail, the second largest retailer in India.)

“Jio and Reliance Retail will launch a unique new commerce platform to empower and enrich our 12 lakh (1.2 million) small retailers and shopkeepers in Gujarat,” Ambani said last year.

Today’s announcement marks what could easily be one of the most remarkable weeks for Amazon. Earlier this week, India’s anti-trust watchdog announced a probe into alleged predatory practices by Amazon India and Flipkart.

It was followed by Bezos’ arrival in India. At an event in New Delhi, he announced the company was investing a fresh $1 billion to its India operations and said it would work to help millions of small merchants come online for the first time.

Not far from the event venue, dozens of merchants assembled to protest the alleged anticompetitive practices of Amazon and Flipkart. On top of that, India’s trade minister Piyush Goyal chimed in on Amazon’s new investment to India, and said the investment was not a big favor to the nation. A day later, he backtracked on his comment.

On Friday, Amazon said it would create a million jobs in India by 2025, and ran a letter signed by Bezos on Amazon India website and app. Bezos had also sought to meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — a request that was not met.

Xiaomi spins off POCO as an independent company

Xiaomi said today it is spinning off POCO, a sub-smartphone brand it created in 2018, as a standalone company that will now run independently of the Chinese electronics giant and make its own market strategy.

The move comes months after a top POCO executive — Jai Mani — and some other founding and core members left the sub-brand. The company today insisted that POCO F1, the only smartphone to be launched under POCO brand, remains a “successful” handset. The POCO F1, a $300 smartphone, was launched in 50 markets.

Manu Kumar Jain, VP of Xiaomi, said POCO has grown into its own identity in a short span of time. “POCO F1 is an extremely popular phone across user groups, and remains a top contender in its category even in 2020. We feel the time is right to let POCO operate on its own now, which is why we’re excited to announce that POCO will spin off as an independent brand,” he said in a statement.

Xiaomi created POCO brand to launch high-end, premium smartphones that would compete directly with flagship smartphones of OnePlus and Samsung. In an interview with yours truly in 2018, Alvin Tse, the head of POCO, and Mani, had said that they are working on a number of smartphones and also thinking about other gadget categories.

At the time, the company already had 300 people working on POCO, and they “shared resources” with the parent company.

“The hope is that we can open up this new consumer need …. If we can offer them something compelling enough at a price point that they have never imagined before, suddenly a lot of people will show interest in availing the top technologies,” Tse said in that interview.

In the years since, Xiaomi, which is known to produce low-end and mid-range smartphones, itself launched a number of high-end smartphones such as the K20 Pro. It is unclear why the company never launched more smartphones under POCO brand.

More to follow…

Amazon’s fresh $1B investment in India is not a big favor, says India trade minister

India’s trade minister isn’t impressed with Amazon’s new $1 billion investment in the country.

A day after Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos announced that his company is pumping in an additional $1 billion into its India operations, making the total local investment to date to $6.5 billion, the nation’s trade minister Piyush Goyal said Amazon’s investment was not a big favor to the country.

“They may have put in a billion dollars, but then, if they make a loss of a billion dollars every year then they jolly well have to finance that billion dollars,” Goyal said in a conference on Thursday organized by think tank Observer Research Foundation. “So it’s not as if they are doing a great favor to India when they invest a billion dollars.”

The remark from the Indian minister comes days after the nation’s antitrust watchdog announced a probe into Amazon India and Walmart-owned Flipkart’s alleged predatory practices.

Bezos, who is in India this week, has sought to meet with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but his request has yet to be approved, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

Goyal reiterated that foreign e-commerce players would have to abide by the local law if they want to continue to operate in the nation. He said the watchdog’s allegations were “an area of concern for every Indian.”

“We allowed every entity to come to India in a marketplace model. A marketplace model is an agnostic model where buyers and sellers are free to trade. If they establish an agreement, then the transaction is between the buyer and seller. The marketplace cannot own the inventory, cannot have control over the inventory, cannot determine prices, and cannot have an algorithm that influences how products from different sellers are listed on the platform,” he added.

“We have several rules for marketplaces in India. As long as one follows them, they are free to operate in India,” he said. Some of the allegations that are being investigated in India surround the alleged violation of these very aforementioned guidelines.

Goyal’s comment may further escalate the tension between Amazon and the Indian government. Last year, U.S. senators criticized New Delhi after it restricted foreign companies from selling inventory from their own subsidiaries. The move forced Amazon and Flipkart to abruptly pull hundreds of thousands of goods from their marketplaces.