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Recent Stories: Google CEO Visits India

I was in India recently covering the first offiical visit Google CEO Sundar Pichai has made to his home country.

In the scenesetter, I wrote about the importance of India to Google — and other big U.S. tech companies, like Facebook:

NEW DELHI— Alphabet Inc.’s Google became a global technology titan serving developed-world consumers on their personal computers, but it is now increasingly turning to a new kind of customer for growth: people on low-cost smartphones in poor countries.

The Mountain View, Calif., company’s efforts to reach users in emerging markets will be in the spotlight this week, when Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai makes his first official visit to India since taking the top job in August.

In the next story, from Delhi, I wrote about what Pichai says Google is doing, specifically, to try to get more people online in India:

NEW DELHI— Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Alphabet Inc.’s Google, on Wednesday outlined the technology titan’s plan to increase Internet access in India, underscoring its focus on the world’s second-most-populous country.

A partnership with the Indian government to offer free Wi-Fi at railway stations across the country is on track to open in 100 stations by the end of 2016, Mr. Pichai said during his first official visit to the country in which he was born since taking the top job in August.

Mr. Pichai told a conference for software developers in New Delhi that the first station to get the Wi-Fi service will be Mumbai Central, in the city on India’s west coast, next month. The initiative was announced in September.

The 43-year-old Mr. Pichai also said that Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is pushing ahead with Project Loon, which aims to use high-altitude balloons to provide Internet access in remote areas of the country.

I also wrote about a talk Pichai gave to university students in Delhi. The brief story, which proved especially popular online, is headlined Google’s Sundar Pichai on How India Can Produce More Tech Leaders Like Him:

Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai on Thursday said the Indian education system, which nurtured him, needs to allow students to take risks, and to fail, if it wants to produce more global technology leaders.

Mr. Pichai also reiterated his message that Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc., is bullish on growth in India, “an amazingly young, vast country,” he told students packed into a gymnasium on the campus of Delhi University.

On Wednesday, Mr. Pichai outlined at a conference for software developers more of the Mountain View, Calif., company’s plans to boost Internet access in India as it looks to the fast-growing country for future growth.

The 43-year-old, who was raised in the southern Indian city of Chennai and attended the elite Indian Institute of Technology before moving to the U.S., said he has been struck by how much India’s startup sector has grown over the past few years and also by the enthusiasm of its entrepreneurs.

There is a “unique opportunity” to build new tech companies in the country because of its huge scale, he said.

Asked how India might improve its educational system to create more executives like him, Mr. Pichai, who joined Google in 2004 and took the top job in August, said “It is important to teach students to take risks.”

 

 

 

 

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Does Social Media Make TV a Better Entertainment Medium for Our Time than Film?

This snippet in Richard Brody’s recent New Yorker piece on the best movies of 2015 struck me:

The cinema’s self-conscious modernity arose when its makers put a virtual mirror into its lenses and revealed the filmmaking process in the films themselves. They reflected the world around the movie within the movie, the director on the screen. But television has outrun the cinema here, too, by replacing the mirror with an echo chamber; by means of social media, television has gone beyond reflexivity to become participatory. It has become its own story. “Transparent” isn’t about an elderly father who comes out as a transgender woman; it’s about the making of a show on that subject. “Mad Men” is about the making of a show about advertising people in the nineteen-sixties. Unlike movies, where reflexivity is a matter of aesthetics, TV has made it a matter of ethics, politics, and sociology.

Food for thought.

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By Me Yesterday: Lyft Teams up with India’s Ola and Singapore’s GrabTaxi

The story begins:

The international alliance of Uber Technologies Inc.’s ride-hailing competitors is growing stronger.

San Francisco startup Lyft Inc. confirmed Thursday it is teaming up with Southeast Asia’s GrabTaxi Holdings Pte. Ltd. and India’s Ola to allow users of each app to hail rides from drivers of the other apps while they are traveling to the other country. Lyft and Chinese startup Didi Kuaidi Joint Co. announced a similar arrangement in September, when the Journal also reported that they were in talks with GrabTaxi and Ola.

Each service will collect payments from its own users in their native currency so that, for example, Indian visitors to the U.S. can open their Ola app to order and pay for rides on Lyft, after which Ola will remit that money to Lyft. The companies said the connected system will go live in the first quarter of next year.

The alliance will connect four services in nine countries, potentially bolstering the competitive field against the much larger Uber. Now in 350 cities around the world, Uber is currently raising up to $2.1 billion more in funding at a valuation as high as about $65 billion, according to a document reviewed by the Journal.

 

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Me on Bernard Leong’s Analyse Asia Podcast

Bernard Leong interviewed me for this week’s episode of his Analyse Asia podcast, which is about tech, business and media in the region.

We discussed three India-related issues I’ve written about for The WSJ (and have mentioned on this blog): Facebook’s Internet.org project, Google’s Android One, and the talent cruch for top startup coders in the country.

You can play or download the episode above, or click through to listen to it on the podcast’s home page, where you’ll also find the show notes. You can also search your favorite podcast app for Analyse Asia; it’s the most recent show.

Happy listening.

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Exclusive: DJI’s Releasing an Agriculture Drone

A colleague and reported today that DJI, the world’s biggest drone maker, is releasing a crop-spraying drone.

The story begins:

China’s SZ DJI Technology Co., the world’s top consumer-drone maker, is setting its sights on the agriculture industry with the launch of a crop sprayer that will test whether farming is fertile ground for drone technology.

DJI, which helped kick-start the global craze for drones with its $1,000 easy-to-fly devices, will on Friday unveil an eight-rotor drone priced at roughly $15,000 that is designed to spray pesticides on crops, a spokesman said. DJI said the drone, which has a 2.6-gallon spray tank and a typical takeoff weight of 49 pounds, can fly for about 12 minutes.

It can spray pesticides on seven to 10 acres of farmland per hour, depending on how much it needs to climb, descend or turn to follow the terrain.

The battery-powered DJI Agras MG-1 will be available first in China and South Korea, though the company didn’t specify exactly when it would go on sale. In China, DJI is taking preorders starting on Friday. The drone is expected to be available in other markets later, the company said.

 

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Scoop: Facebook Eyeing Asia for Instant Articles Ad Platform

A colleague and I reported earlier this week that Facebook’s looking at Asia to launch its Instant Articles advertising platform.

The story begins:

Facebook Inc. is laying the groundwork to expand its Instant Articles service in Asia, underscoring the extent to which it considers populous emerging markets as it implements new features.

The world’s largest social network has in recent weeks advertised job openings via its Asia-Pacific headquarters in Singapore for contractors who will work with “new publishers to begin developing Instant Articles” and “provide direct support to publishers” who use the service. The jobs call for candidates who can speak Thai or Vietnamese.

Instant Articles allow media companies to publish material directly on Facebook, rather than as links to their sites. Facebook says these articles load ten times faster than standard articles on mobile phones. The company launched Instant Articles in the U.S. in May and in India last week.

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By Me Yesterday: ‘What the New H-1B Visa Reform Bill Could Mean for Indian Outsourcers’

The story begins:

Life could get tougher for Indian outsourcing firms that do business in the U.S. and for Indians who want to get visas to work there.

A key part of India’s outsourcing industry has long been to send thousands of its information-technology engineers and programmers to the U.S. on skilled-worker permits known as H-1B visas.

But two U.S. senators are renewing their efforts to force employers to try to hire Americans first before foreign workers.

Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin last week introduced a bill that would require all companies that want to hire workers under H-1Bs to first try to hire U.S. citizens.

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By Me Yesterday: ‘Flush Indian Startups Face Shortage of Skilled Workers’

The story begins:

BANGALORE, India—Software engineer Anshul Goel graduated from college in 2013. In the 2½ years since then, the 24-year-old has switched jobs three times, jumping from one Indian tech company to another, and doubled his salary.

Mr. Goel, who specializes in writing code that e-commerce startups and others use to predict customer behavior, says he is deluged with emails from headhunters. “My mailbox is full of them,” he said. “And it’s not only me.”

Indian startups, flush with cash from foreign venture capitalists, have been on a hiring spree as they race to scale up and beat rivals in an increasingly competitive market. Venture capitalists have poured some $4.54 billion into India’s startups so far this year, surpassing the $4 billion invested last year, says Indian data tracker Venture Intelligence. But a shortage of skilled workers is driving up wages and turning into a serious hurdle to companies’ expansion plans.

The country is home to millions of information-technology workers, veterans of India’s huge outsourcing industry. But, tech executives say, few of them have the cutting-edge abilities that startups in businesses from e-commerce to ride-booking apps crave.

I also wrote a post at our Digits blog about perks some workers are securing:

Free rides to work, cool offices with tasty food, new smartphones — it’s a good time to be a talented software engineer in India.

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By Me This Week: Zuckerberg Visits India

The story begins:

Shut out of China, Mark Zuckerberg is training his sights on India as a source for future growth.

The Facebook Inc. founder arrived in India on Tuesday as he continues working to expand the company’s reach in a billion-person economy becoming increasingly important in the social networking giant’s quest to add new users.

It is Mr. Zuckerberg’s second visit to India in the last 12 months. During the last one he met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and launched a free Internet initiative.

Connecting more people in the developing world has become an important goal for Mr. Zuckerberg and his firm. India’s population of more than 1.2 billion people, millions of whom speak English, will be one of the biggest targets for the company’s global growth plans, analysts say, as China doesn’t allow its citizens access to the website.

I also helped some colleagues out with a liveblog for the town hall Q&A Zuckerberg held in Delhi.

Click through for a re-cap of the event, in which Zuckerberg defended Facebook’s controversial free Internet project, Internet.org, which I mentioned writing about few weeks back.

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