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Mobile Money Heats Up in India as Google Doubles Down

That’s the headline of my most recent story, which came out yesterday. It begins:

NEW DELHI–Alphabet Inc.’s Google is raising its mobile-payments game in India with new functions and services as global players race to woo the nation’s legions of consumers who are skipping credit cards and transacting on smartphones instead.

A day after Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. said it had invested in the parent company of India’s largest digital-payments firm, called Paytm, Google said it is expanding its mobile money service in the South Asian nation. It is partnering with several local banks to offer consumer loans from within its app in the coming weeks, aiming to assist users seeking cash to cover expenses such as school fees.

Google is also expanding its tie-ups to more online merchants as well as to physical retail shops such as India’s ubiquitous mom and pop stores.

Click through to read the rest.

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

Uc browser

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.

Click through to read the rest.

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

google

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.

Click through to read the rest.

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

By Me Today: Google Wants a Piece of Mobile Payments in India

2017-09-18rupee

The story begins:

Alphabet Inc.’s Google is aiming for a piece of India’s booming—but increasingly crowded—mobile-payments business.

The Mountain View, Calif., tech giant on Monday launched its first-ever smartphone app that lets users transfer money to individuals and businesses in the country without the use of a credit or a debit card, a crucial factor since many here lack plastic.

Click through to read the rest.

So, to re-cap the state of play as people leapfrog from cash (over credit cards) to payments via smartphones here:

  • Paytm — which we profiled back in June — is the market leader, with more than 225 million users. There are other popular services here, as well, like Mobikwik.
  • WhatsApp, with 200 million users in India, is exploring a payments feature.
  • Hike, India’s biggest home grown app, added a payments feature a few months ago.

Watch this space.

Google CEO’s Advice to Ambitious Students: Loosen Up

2017 01 06google

That’s the gist of my story yesterday, which began:

Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai has some straightforward life advice for students at his alma mater: loosen up and have some fun.

The India-born Mr. Pichai, speaking Thursday at the elite Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur outside Kolkata, told university students who asked how they could emulate his success to pursue their passions, take risks, and be creative.

That is unconventional advice in a country where parents often pressure their children from a young age to study hard so they can secure steady employment.

“Academics is important but it is not as important as it’s made out to be,” Mr. Pichai said, adding that during his time studying metallurgical engineering at the school more than two decades ago he stayed up late, slept through the occasional class — and may even have earned a C in one course.

“I worked hard but we did have our share of fun as well,” he said.

And:

Near the end of his hour-long town hall, an earnest student asked Mr. Pichai for advice on how he could make the most of his four years on campus. Mr. Pichai’s response was simple: “I wouldn’t overthink it.”

Previously: Google’s Newest India Focus: Connecting Small Businesses.

Google’s Newest India Focus: Connecting Small Businesses

2017 01 05india

That’s the subject of my latest WSJ story, which begins:

NEW DELHI— Alphabet Inc.’s Google is ramping up its efforts to get India’s small businesses online, the latest step in its quest to win new users in the populous nation.

Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai said on Wednesday that the Mountain View, Calif., company will launch later this year a tool that allows owners of small businesses that are now offline to create mobile-friendly websites for free. Google says nearly three quarters of the country’s 51 million small businesses currently lack a web presence.

India will be the first country to get access to the feature, which will then be rolled out to other nations.

“India shapes how we develop products in so many ways, big and small,” the India-born Mr. Pichai told a conference of entrepreneurs here. He said the company has added more staff locally and executives have been spending more time in the South Asian nation.

As I’ve noted before, India holds huge potential for Google — and other big U.S. tech firms, like Uber and Amazon — because it is home to more than 1.2 billion people, most of whom have yet to get online for the first time.

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.”

 

 

 

 

Stories this Week: Google’s Android One and Project Loon in India

A scoop by a colleague and me earlier this week: Google’s taking another shot at low-cost smartphone success in India.

The story begins:

Alphabet Inc.’s Google helped launch a line of low-cost smartphones in India more than a year ago, part of a strategy to win more customers in fast-growing emerging markets. It was a flop.

Now, the tech giant is trying again by relaxing its rules, giving phone makers more latitude when it comes to features and price.

Google and India’s Lava International Ltd. plan to release a new low-cost smartphone in the coming months as part of the Android One program, people familiar with the matter say. The initiative aims to give users in developing economies an inexpensive way to get online through its Android mobile operating system.

Separately, I wrote an explainer: “Five Things to Know About Google’s Android One.

Meanwhile, here’s a quick post I wrote about the search giant targeting India for its stratospheric Internet balloons effort, Project Loon:

Google parent company Alphabet Inc. says it is discussing with the Indian government an ambitious project to use high-altitude balloons to provide Internet access in remote areas, the latest sign of U.S. tech firms’ interest in the world’s second-most-populous country.

Known as Project Loon, the Alphabet plan involves a network of balloons floating in the stratosphere that would serve as “floating mobile-phone towers.” The initiative is meant to connect people who now lack online access.

By Me Today: How Tech Companies Like Google, Facebook, Twitter and Viber are Helping Connect People Following the Nepal Earthquake

UPDATE: Embedded above and online here: a video I recorded with WSJ Live about the story.

The story begins:

Global technology firms are pitching in on earthquake rescue efforts in Nepal with services such as free calls to and from the country to functions that track survivors and relay the news to worried relatives and friends overseas.

Search giant Google Inc. on Saturday launched its Person Finder service, which allows users to post and search for information about missing friends and loved ones. The feature, which Google created in response to the destructive 2010 earthquake in Haiti, showed it was tracking 5,100 records as of early Monday afternoon Asia time.

Facebook Inc. activated Safety Check, which allows users in areas affected by the earthquake to select a notification alerting friends on the social network that they are OK.

“When disasters happen, people need to know their loved ones are safe,” Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg wrote Saturday in a post on his Facebook page, referring to the feature developed last year. “It’s moments like this that being able to connect really matters.” The post was shared more than 41,000 times and received more than 263,000 likes.

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