Uber Agrees in Principle to Exit Southeast Asia for Stake in Rival

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That’s the headline of my newest story, which I wrote with my colleagues Greg Bensinger and Julie Steinberg. It ran late Thursday, and begins:

Uber Technologies Inc. has reached an agreement in principle to sell most of its Southeast Asia operations to local rival Grab Inc., ending a costly fight for market share in the fast-growing region, according to people familiar with the matter.

In exchange for its operations in Southeast Asia, Uber would gain a roughly 30% stake in Grab, these people said. The two companies are still hashing out the final terms of the pact, the people said, cautioning any deal would be subject to regulatory scrutiny. One of the people said Uber’s stake in Grab could wind up being smaller.

Uber was spending some $200 million annually to take on Grab and another upstart in the region, GoJek, two of the people said. Go-Jek, a motorcycle-taxi service based in Indonesia, recently raised more than $1 billion in funding from KKR & Co. and Tencent Holdings Ltd., among others.

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Uber Battles Ride-Sharing Startups in SoftBank ‘Family’

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That’s the headline of my newest story, which I wrote with my colleage Mayumi Negishi, out today. It begins:

SoftBank Group Corp., the world’s biggest technology investor, has poured some $20 billion into ride-sharing companies around the globe, including Uber Technologies Inc.

Now, those companies are spending at least some of SoftBank’s money to battle each other.

In Japan, Uber is gearing up to fight China’s Didi Chuxing Technology Co., which is planning to enter the market after an investment by SoftBank of around $10 billion.

In India, Uber is facing off with local champion ANI Technologies Inc.’s Ola, in which SoftBank has about a 30% stake and a board seat. SoftBank invested $7.7 billion in Uber for a 15% stake this year.

Uber and Ola are also grappling in Australia, where Ola started operations in February. Uber in Southeast Asia is trailing Singapore’s Grab Inc., whose president joined from SoftBank in 2016 following its $750 million investment in the company.

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Why the iPhone Is Losing Out to Chinese Devices in Asia

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That’s the headline of my newest story, which ran last week.

It begins:

NEW DELHI—The iPhone X has set a new benchmark for smartphone prices and bolstered Apple Inc.’s bottom line, but its steep price may be hobbling its future in Asia’s biggest markets and allowing Chinese challengers to grab market share.

Buyers from India to Indonesia are opting for models from Chinese smartphone makers like Xiaomi Corp.—sometimes called “the Apple of China”—along with BBK Electronics Corp.’s Oppo and Vivo.

China’s manufacturers are increasingly churning out higher-priced devices that compete directly with Apple’s smartphones. They often have high-end features, but carry lower price tags than the iPhone X or even older iPhone models. They are targeting potential Apple customers by offering phones with robust hardware such as metal bodies, beefy batteries and unique features iPhones lack, including special cameras for taking better selfies.

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Mike Allen and Axios, Profiled in Buzzfeed

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Over at Buzzfeed, Steven Perlberg profiles Mike Allen and Axios, the news organization he co-founded just a year ago:

Axios has bigger ambitions than changing Washington’s news diet. Led by Allen’s fellow Politico alum Jim VandeHei, the company has a broad audience in mind: tens of millions of smart people who seek out quick news on a daily basis. Like Politico, Axios delivers news fast — but distilled down to a few sentences or bullet points. And like Playbook, Axios has created another language, framing the day’s stories under tags like: “Be smart,” “Why it matters,” “Go deeper,” and occasionally the highest praise, “Worthy of your time.” Allen calls these little framing phrases “Axioms,” and they litter Axios’s coverage of politics, media, business, and tech. Rival reporters call them primers for warmed-over conventional wisdom, but if you read Axios consistently enough, you can find yourself texting in Axiosese to friends.

Allen’s daily email newsletter, Axios AM, you’ll recall, was among my favorite email newsletters of 2017.

It’s timely, written in a personal voice by someone in the know, contains exclusive news, and – a big benefit in these crazy times – aggregates the top stories from a variety of different news outlets, so you always feel up to speed on what’s up in Washington.

The Internet Is Filling Up Because Indians Are Sending Millions of ‘Good Morning!’ Texts

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That’s the headline of my newest story, an A-hed out yesterday.

It begins:

Google researchers in Silicon Valley were trying to figure out why so many smartphones were freezing up half a world away. One in three smartphone users in India run out of space on their phones daily.

The answer? Two words. “Good Morning!”

The glitch, Google discovered, was an overabundance of sun-dappled flowers, adorable toddlers, birds and sunsets sent along with a cheery message.

Millions of Indians are getting online for the first time—and they are filling up the internet. Many like nothing better than to begin the day by sending greetings from their phones. Starting before sunrise and reaching a crescendo before 8 a.m., internet newbies post millions of good-morning images to friends, family and strangers.

All that good cheer is driving a 10-fold increase in the number of Google searches for “Good Morning images” over the past five years. Pinterest, the San Francisco visual-search platform, added a new section to display images with quotes. It saw a ninefold increase over the past year in the number of people in India downloading such pictures.

Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp messaging service—which has 200 million monthly active users in India, making the country its biggest market—added a status message last year so users could say good morning to all of their contacts at once.

The story, which is on the front page of Tuesdays print WSJ, seems to have touched a nerve. It’s been widely shared online, and has been among the most popular stories on WSJ.com since it was published.

A Browser You’ve Never Heard of Is Dethroning Google in Asia

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That’s the headline of my newest story, out today. It begins:

JAKARTA, Indonesia—A mobile browser rarely used in the West has outflanked Google’s Chrome in some of Asia’s fastest-growing markets, giving owner Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. an advantage in the race among technology giants to capture the next generation of internet users.

Hundreds of millions of people in India, Indonesia and other emerging markets getting online for the first time are picking UC Browser, owned by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, over ones made by U.S. rivals. Users say UC Browser works better in countries dominated by low-end smartphones and spotty mobile service.

“It’s faster, it takes up less memory, and it looks better” than Chrome, said Rizky Ari Prasetya, a 20-year-old Jakarta resident who recently ditched Chrome for UC Browser.

India and Indonesia are among the last, great untapped markets for internet users. Just 30% of India’s 1.3 billion people are online, and only 25% of Indonesia’s 260 million use the web, according to the International Telecommunication Union, a United Nations body.

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Google, India and Next Billion Users Follow up: More Data

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Following my story Tuesday about Google, India, and the future of the web, I wanted to share the text of some tweets, slightly edited for presentation here, that I posted after Google’s launch event.

These are some stats Google revealed at the gathering, along with a obvservaiton of two of mine:

–…India now has 400 million internet users, most accessing the web via their smartphones, Google says.

— Still, some 900 million Indians aren’t online.

230 million people use the web in local Indian languages today.

170 million are using messaging services, Google says, and 106 million consume online news.

— Some 1 billion apps are downloaded every month from Google’s Play Store, more than any other nation.

28% of search queries in India are done via voice.

Google is seeing 400% growth in Hindi queries year on year.

— On Google’s new India-first mobile payment app, Tez: launched 10 weeks ago, about to pass 12 million active users, Google says. 500,000 merchants are on the platform.

There are “big new features planned, especially for merchants,” in 2018, said Caesar Sengupta, of Google’s Next Billion Users team.

Re-cap of new stuff: Android Oreo (Go edition), for inexpensive smartphones. Google Go, search app for beginner web users. Files Go, for freeing up space on (again, inexpensive) phones. Google Assistant for JioPhone. Maps feature for motorbike riders. [Note: more details are here.]

— And an incident that illustrates how tough voice search tech can be to get right. An exec was demo-ing how to use Google Assistant to find a restaurant in Delhi.

In live demo, he said: “How do I get there?”

The phone then displayed the text:

huawei adventure advocate?

— He and the audience laughed it off, and he tried again, asking for directions, and Google Assistant gave him directions to different location than the restaurant.

UPDATE, December 29: If you’d like to watch the event, you can find it on YouTube here.

By Me Yesterday: Google, India, and the Future of the Web

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The story begins:

NEW DELHI—An explosion of smartphone usage in India is changing the way Alphabet Inc.’s Google sees the future of the internet.

As a mobile price war in the South Asian nation has slashed data rates to less than $5 a month for unlimited high-speed access, hundreds of millions of people are getting online for the first time and bingeing, stretching their low-end smartphones to the limit.

The Mountain View, Calif., company rolled out several apps and functions Tuesday aimed directly at these net newbies and those like them in other emerging markets.

As online activity here has increased this year, the inexpensive smartphones used by many consumers have struggled to handle the surge. To help, Google has shrunk the file size of its mobile operating system and many popular apps. Users in India are frequently offline so Google has given them the ability to do more without an internet connection. Also, they are much more likely to get around on motorcycles than in cars so Google Maps has started offering suggested routes and travel-time estimates for two-wheelers.

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For more on the products, here’s a blog post from Google containing additional details.

By Me Today: Uber Hits Roadblocks in Southeast Asia

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The story begins:

SINGAPORE—When Uber Technologies Inc. retreated from China last year after conceding a costly battle with a local rival, the ride-hailing giant vowed to devote new resources to winning other lucrative markets in Asia.

Since then, Uber has suffered setbacks in Southeast Asia, a region of 600 million people, where it has been outflanked by another local player, Grab Inc., which is gobbling up market share. Grab has expanded more rapidly, been more nimble in meeting local preferences, analysts say, and has forged better relations with regulators.

Grab has more monthly active users than Uber across six Southeast Asian countries, according to app analytics firm App Annie, while a May report from consultancy Bain found users across the region prefer Grab to Uber.

Now Uber investors and analysts believe the region may be the next to be ceded by Uber, which withdrew from Russia in July.

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By Me Today: India’s Ola in Talks to Raise Up to $2 Billion

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The story begins:

NEW DELHI—Uber Technologies Inc.’s rival in India, Ola, is in talks to raise as much as $2 billion, a cash injection that would provide added fuel to fight the San Francisco ride-hailing giant in the world’s second-most-populous country.

ANI Technologies Pvt.’s Ola, based in Bangalore, is in discussions to receive the funds from Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp. and possibly one or more other backers, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Ola, which launched in 2011—two years before Uber’s arrival in India—is locked in a tight battle with the U.S. firm for control of the Indian market, which could prove lucrative as millions of people join the internet economy via inexpensive smartphones.

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